Now Reading
Defender of Dharma: Indomitable Dalit Activist Milind Makwana Dies After Testifying Against California’s Caste Bill

Defender of Dharma: Indomitable Dalit Activist Milind Makwana Dies After Testifying Against California’s Caste Bill

  • The Indian American rejected attempts to label him or box his identity into a neat category to suit the perpetrators of Hinduphobia.

How does one deal with the passing of a Yodha — who quite literally fought for Dharma till his last breath? This week many of us grappled with this thought as we mourned the passing of Milind Makwana, a stalwart leader of the Hindu community, who had touched so many lives with his social service, books and fearless advocacy. 

In true warrior tradition, the Indian American Dalit activist went out fighting. Makwana’s last public statement was made during testimony at the Cupertino City Council on July 18, as part of the Hindu community’s fight back against racist laws like SB403 that seek to profile us. Many casual readers might wonder why a leader like Makwana, himself from a marginalized community, was arguing so passionately against the supposed protections being offered to him by California’s SB403. And for that, a detailed reading of Milind’s own words from earlier this year should be required reading. Makwana could and did speak for himself and it behooves any interested party to listen to him directly versus any “caste experts” intervening on his behalf. 

Milind Makwana, in wheelchair, trying to elevate the voice of Dalit/Bahujan Hindus against SB403 in Sacramento in April.

In the single minute afforded to him by Cupertino, Makwana passionately rejected attempts to label him or box his identity into a neat category to suit the convenience of others. We commiserated with one another as the evening wore on with many frustrating moments, but the indomitable spirit and verve that had characterized Makwana remained till the end, when he abruptly passed away, shortly after the hearing had concluded.

As I mourned the loss of someone who had inspired my own fight for Dharma, I thought about his words and read once again the powerful story of his life which he had penned earlier this year, sketching his journey from the chawls of Mumbai to a successful technology professional in Silicon Valley. His story focused on politics and a fascinating interplay of identities — the ones he embraced — like being an innovative professional, a father, a published author and a proud Hindu, versus those thrust upon him by others.  

Makwana and I had spent the last few years in the trenches of the same war — fighting the fake narrative rolling out in our schools, offices and hometowns re “caste in the U.S.” We had spoken together in April 2021, when our home county of Santa Clara had attempted to profile us and we were back this month asking our cities for protection against the same. 

For Indian Americans, especially Hindus, our names now risk being the tool by which our lawmakers will label and categorize us — our own preference be damned. So, while Googling Milind’s last name, Makwana, I was intrigued to find one of the first links that surfaced, was from the infamous Joshua Project. Part of a global multi-billion dollar initiative, Joshua Project is focused on completing the unfinished missionary work of brutal 18th Century European colonizers: to target and decimate vulnerable indigenous cultures and communities via religious conversions. 

 In the 19th century, the Makwana could not or would not pay their taxes to the British government. As a result, the land of the Makwana was taken away and given to other castes. The Makwana began raiding and stealing from the occupants of their former land. The British then classified the Makwana as a Criminal Caste. The Makwana started a rebellion against the British in 1914 while the British were fighting in WWI. Upon the Partition of India in 1947, the new government granted the Makwana status as an Other Backward Caste which means they are eligible for certain government jobs and special university admissions. As Makwana have become educated, many have become successful businesspersons.”

It is a fascinating snapshot of the complex interplay of the politics and labels that are now again being weaponized against the Hindu community, only now, halfway across the globe. In the 1900s, it was British imperialists forced a caste identity on their subjects, going so far as to deem certain groups they did not like, as criminals at birth. And frustratingly today we see progressive activists and lawmakers similarly target and stereotype diaspora Hindu communities with arbitrary labels of “perceived caste”, “savarna”, and so on. 

Milind Makwana, center, with the author, third from right, and others, at Cupertino City Hall, the night he passed away, after speaking against SB403.

Echoing the racism of European colonial times, we are now told that “Indians/South Asians bring caste with them wherever they go,” implying a genetic difference and echoing a sentiment once conveyed by phrases like “the White Man’s Burden.” The more things change, the more they remain the same it seems. 

And yet, just like the Makwanas of yesteryears who rebelled against their British colonizers, their current descendants like Milind Makwana also refuse to accept unjust laws. He was at the forefront of the fight against California’s racist SB403 law, showing up in Sacramento repeatedly to make his voice heard-even in a wheelchair.

See Also

Unfortunately, his voice was often silenced by those pretending to represent him, so it heartens me to think that the City of Cupertino did issue a proclamation, recognizing the negative connotations of the word caste and its harmful impact on Asian Americans and I hope Makwana’s testimony played a role in influencing that.

Makwana had boundless passion and energy for Hinduism, and his indefatigable spirit kept so many of us striving to do more. His passing has devastated not just his family but also the broader Bay Area community who came together in the hundreds to mourn. 

But mourning a warrior needs action! It’s time to make sure his voice is marginalized no more, by taking his message into all the cities we live and work in. We are the proud inheritors of the world’s oldest, most diverse and most progressive faith and as American Hindus, we need to step up, take action and own our narrative. It’s as American as apple pie.

Pushpita Prasad is a storyteller and communications professional with a background in working with media, technology and history. She is passionate about topics related to India, Human Rights, Hinduism and Culture. Pushpita is involved with organizations focused on advocating for minorities  —  finding their stories and helping to elevate their voices through multiple media and channels.

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
View Comment (1)
  • Excellent article on milind ji’s fight for dharma and justice. His loss will be felt keenly by his family and also by his community, a true testament to how well integrated he was. If even an ounce of what caste activists say is true, milind ji would not have the type of backing, support and love from the Hindu community. No, we don’t walk around asking people their caste before becoming their friends. Not here and not in india and to imply it is racist af.
    Om shanti milind ji, I hope we do your fight justice in the years to come.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2020 American Kahani LLC. All rights reserved.

The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
Scroll To Top