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  • Uliya

Abolishing our diasporic casteism

I'm so so so grateful to the journey I've been in the last 2-3 years to deepen my understanding and awareness of South Asian history and culture and cut through the Brahmanical propaganda.


Growing up, the lessons I learned about Indian culture did not make sense to me and did not sit well with me. What I heard, especially coming from a mixed upper-caste background, was secrecy, paranoia, insecurity, "soft" supremacy, and exclusivity.


There were of course moments where I felt warmth, belonging, and fun, but there were also moments where I was perplexed. I felt anxious and afraid; I felt that I could not be anything other than what was being dictated to me. And what was being dictated to me, by the Brahmin (Hindu) culture my father espoused, was arbitrary, inconsistent, oppressive, and scary (ie, a very patriarchal, heterosexist, gender binaried, xenophobic way of being).


Every time my father mentioned anything related to Brahminism (Hindusim) it felt like this stormy cloud came over us and the color drained from the world. It felt ominous and foreboding. It always felt like the tone of the conversations changed; it became grave, heavy, and threatening almost. Like I needed to heed his every word and listen to everything he said...or else. When he would tell me about customs or the "thread ceremony" that I would have to do in the future or the expectations I was expected to fulfill when I became a "man" or if/when he died, my stomach would tied in knots and cramp painfully.


My parents were transmitting the culture and traditions they knew and were aware of and wittingly or unwittingly taught me casteist lessons. I know for a fact that my father and aunt had superior complexes due to their believing they were racially superior as Brahmins.


And that was reinforced by the South Asians I was surrounded by (conceivably all upper-caste).


As I've shared before, reports from the last decade or so say that most people of Indian descent living in the US come from dominant caste backgrounds. I'm not sure what the breakdown is for how many of those people are of so-called "twice-born" decent. But there's no way to know for sure what the sample size was for this survey, if the study was skewed to networks of upper-caste or dominant-caste people, or if Dalit-Bahujan people were apprehensive or chose not to report their background (understandable!!!).


Regardless, it is obvious from my own observation that South Asian culture in the US is dominated by upper caste Hindu Indians.


And when I say Hindu I mean "Brahmin" because Hinduism was a project of upper-caste people to appropriate traditions and practices and consolidate power by claiming that the majority of Indians are suddenly "Hindu."


I think of the subtle ways that caste shows. How we talk about different communities (Gujarati, Punjabi, etc) are based in casteist tropes. Caste simply becomes part of culture and ethnicity or linguistic/religious grouping (ie the Gujarati Samaj in which I grew up).


People of different groupings essentialize traits as though they are innately part of a people by ancestry. Gujarati banias (my mom's people) talk about how they are this type of person and that type of way based on bloodline...that is problematic and terrifying. You inevitably get into the territory of eugenics and racial purity, which is the innate evil of caste (and race).


So it is possible to be casteist and to learn caste from our casteist parents even within the US diaspora. Owning that fact might be uncomfortable but it's the only way to start the process of deprogramming and reckoning with our savarna privilege.