Dalit Narratives in the US: Fact and Fiction
(Image courtesy: janataweekly.org)
Dalits are the new cause célèbre here in the United States of America, which now has become a new center for hatching regime changes led by a combination of old and just arrived actors. Dalits have been embraced by Christian groups who have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into their old venture capitalist project of making the world Christian. Progressives, Muslims, Sikhs, feminist groups, those claiming to be Hindus fighting for human rights have all begun looking for Dalit friends and Dalit causes to support and arm them with their anti-Hindu astras: we could call this the weaponization of the Dalit cause in America.
“Caste” is the new demon word, and Dalits the new angels in town. Together, the Hinduphobes have joined forces to design with deliberate care, their insidious program to corner, marginalize, and delegitimize Hindus who have till now been lauded as the “ideal immigrants” – well educated, hardworking doctors, engineers, scientists, CEOs of multinational corporations, academics, and scholars, along with a vibrant group of business owners. Hindus are the new Jews in the US, it seems, to be demonized and marked for cancellation. Caste is the handle that has been carefully crafted and weaponized to beat us into a corner from which we cannot emerge unscathed if at all we are to emerge from it.
Talking to Prof. Sunil Kumar, who led the initiative to oppose the California State University’s Board of Trustees’ move to recognize caste as a new category to be protected from discrimination, we found out how academics and activists, behind the scenes, manipulated and carefully engineered this scheme to demonize Hindus using the few Dalits that they have befriended. Hearing Prof. Kumar tell the tale of how the California State University Faculty Association leaders misled him, promising a hearing and a discussion before the trustees voted to include caste as a protected category, was chilling and dismaying. Prof. Kumar said that the plot had been so carefully hatched that it would do credit to the cleverest of conmen and the most devious of tyrants. But then, the anti-Hindu activists and academics draw upon the fine-honed tactics of violent supremacists and monopolists crafted over millennia. So, the tactics at the hearing called by the Board of Trustees included not calling upon the Indian faculty, students, and activists who opposed such a move, or when called, given only last-minute notice, and truncated time. They did not stop at this: they then gave extra time to the academics and activists who had engineered this initiative to immediately follow Prof. Sunil Kumar and undermine his presentation.
There is much to this story, but the crux of the matter is about the status, condition, and life of Dalits in the US, because what is being manufactured here is the fiction that Hindus in the US discriminate fellow Hindus based on their caste status. We will not go over all of the nuances about caste as a Western, imported category, about the real nature of jati and varna, about discrimination in India of certain jatis in certain areas of the country in certain contexts, the rules in place in India to reward those from “backward castes,” etc. What matters to us, now, here in the US, in the face of these fabricated stories about the discrimination against Dalits is whether there is indeed any truth to these claims that Dalits are being shamed, distanced, mocked. Let us look at two stories reported in the media recently.
First, the story of Aldrin Deepak, who was born in the small South Indian town of Kollegal, Karnataka, famous for its silk sarees. Aldrin tells his interviewer, Pushpita Prasad, of the taunts from his own mother’s Christian family because his father was of the “Holeya” jati and who converted to Christianity to marry Aldrin’s mother. Aldrin was raised Christian and suffered teasing and humiliation from Christian members of his family, and after his mother died young, he found solace, as a young boy, from a Hindu lady who became his “second mother.” She brought grace and happiness to his life. He says he “embarked on a journey of healing and of discovery — of the richness of my Hindu heritage” that was denied him by his mother’s family. “I reveled in its arts and theatre, marveled at its soaring temples, and gained strength from its Vaishnava tradition,” he tells Prasad.
Arriving in the US, like other Indian tech workers, he has been “part of close-knit teams, with members drawn from various parts of India.” He says that his “Dalit” status was “never an issue in our camaraderie nor relevant professionally as we worked late hours powered by adrenalin and caffeinated sodas.” But over the past couple of years, he has been observing how caste has become part of mainstream American media narratives, but that no one really wants to hear his story because his life experiences do not contribute to the manufactured narratives which seek to depict Dalits as being discriminated against by other Hindus in their new homeland of the “brave and the free.” He says, that “caste” and his birth “have been rudely thrust in my face over the past year, often by ignorant journalists and academics with an axe to grind. They ignore or deny the sum total of my existence and want to put me into one neat box that fits their worldview. My sense of self-identity is questioned, and my lived experience denied by activists who never asked for my permission but claim to represent me and insist they speak for me.”
Manufacturing narratives has always been a game for acquiring or denying power. Not being able to point out to one, explicit case of discrimination against them, politically active Dalit students now make allegations that are immediately picked up by a score or more of major media outlets around the country that repeat their unverifiable stories. So, for example, a student of “social development and inclusion,” Dadasaheb Tandale, claims that an Indian American professor, in one of the classes he took, made “cheap, sly, casteist remarks.” Tandale is, according to his Linkedin profile, a Ph.D. student at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, interested in doing a “Comparative analysis from Right to Health Framework of Inequity in accessing Maternal Health Services by Black Women in the U.S and Dalit Women in India” (sic). Well and good, and one hopes that as a social scientist Tandale knows or at least he is being trained in collecting and analyzing verifiable data, and that making unverifiable allegations is the weapon of ideologically committed activists and political grandstanders. Tandale should either opt for activism or pursue his goal of being a scholar and an academic, making the pursuit of objective, verifiable knowledge his standard. Alas, these days when reporters at The New York Times claim that there is nothing like reporting objectively or when academics organized under the “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion” banner seek to overturn standards of academic research in their pursuit of power and control, Tandale is in good company. There is now money, power, recognition, awards, tenured positions, fellowships, and book deals awaiting any Dalit who wishes to market his or her tale of make-believe woe in this “land of the free.”
Another person, Neha Singh, claims that someone from an “upper caste,” a decade ago, told her: “Saale cha*** tumhari kismat bahut tez hai, tum America pahunch gaye” – (“You cha*** — you’re in luck to have made it to America”). Someone might have. But who knows in what context those words were spoken, if at all, and who it was that so disparaged her? There are no details about the when, where, and who in this story. How did that person know to which caste Neha Singh belonged? “Singh” is the last name of a whole variety of jatis in India. Was this a person that Ms. Singh knew well? Who was the person who would go to the extent of abusing her, and for what reason? However, now, without her story being unverified and unverifiable, Ms. Singh emerges as a Dalit in favor of the California State University System’s anti-discrimination policy. She also recounts an episode in her life about having a friend in graduate school, and one day the friend’s parents asking her about her caste because they were looking for a marriage match for a young man in their family. It is common practice in Indian families to ask friends and family to recommend matches based on jati, is it not? After all, endogamy is an aspect of jati practices. Ms. Singh claims that after that encounter with her friend’s parents, her friend began to distance her. Really? How many young Hindus in the US go checking each other’s “caste status,” and upon finding out what it is hang out with each other or distance one another based on their “caste status”? Ms Singh seems to believe that the University System of California applying caste as a category of anti-discrimination might help engineer social practices in the Indian community in the US. How convenient!
The “interpersonal is institutional,” argues the loudest Dalit rights activist leader, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, whose “Equality Labs” is generously funded by George Soros, who is using his billions to re-engineer societies across the world. We really don’t know what it is that Soros, Soundararajan, Singh, or Tandale want to see happen in the US regarding jati dynamics: Do they want intermarriage between jatis? Would they like us all to give up our last names? Would they come up with a list of last names and affiliated jati categories? For example, what jati can the last name “Kumar” be identified with? Or Singh? These days there are many Hindus who just use their place of birth as their last name. Do they like us all to give up the habits of food, dress, worship, language, music, etc., to put an end to any and all jati identifiable practices? Whose practices should be banned, and whose should be celebrated?
Alas, we have no clue. Instead, as the stories narrated in the media of these handful of Dalits recounting some unverifiable encounter with unverifiable others indicate, Hindu Americans are now the target of the monopolists and supremacists – in whatever garb they arrive – “progressive,” “liberal,” “Christian,” “Muslim,” “South Asian,” or soldiers of the “DEI” army.
It is the season, however, for a new round of “ethnic cleansing” and “canceling,” American progressive style, and for mediocre academics and pugilist activists to target successful members of the Hindu American tribe. So, we have papers with such titles as “How casteism shows up in the diaspora: the urgent need for caste protections” presented in the US and in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, by organizations such as the “South Asian Scholars and Activists Solidarities (SASAS)”, ensuring that these activists at least earn airline miles if nothing else.
I have lived thirty-seven years in the US – two years in Mississippi, four years in Michigan, fourteen years in Missouri, eight years in Virginia, and nine years in Georgia. I have visited the homes of Hindus of all shapes, sizes, jatis, and from regions across India. Not once have I heard discussions about jati and caste. Even if I had, and even if there are such discussions in the homes of some Hindu Americans, the question is simply this: is there a concerted attempt and a design to discriminate against each other, and especially against Dalits? What is exactly being sought by the activists in American academe and politics in putting these rules in place? Who is joining hands with whom to concoct these stories of discrimination, shame, and abuse?
There should be no doubt about the villains in this saga and what their end games are. As American life gets snared in the traps of identity politics, we will see a new set of winners and losers. We Hindu Americans better beware.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy of any information in this article.
tags: Anti-Hindu, California State University, Hindus, caste, Dalit, George Soros, Hindu-American, Hinduphobe, Muslims, South Asian