I am a Dalit Sikh Woman. Here’s an Account of My Journey to Healing in the Campaign to Ban Caste Discrimination in America
- Dalit women have been and continue to be historically silenced, and my Dalit Sikh family has faced unrelenting caste violence in the Indian diaspora community.
I am proud to be a young, Dalit woman fighting for caste equity alongside Councilmember Kshama Sawant of Seattle to pass the first-ever ordinance to include caste in the city’s anti-discrimination policy. This is my first time organizing around caste equity, and it means everything to me that I might live in a city where I am free from caste discrimination.
I am a survivor of caste and gender violence. Dalit women have and continue to be historically silenced, and my Dalit Sikh family faced unrelenting caste violence in the diaspora. Caste stress imploded my family, and outside of my home I was bullied by dominant caste children in school and in the gurdwara. I am still haunted by the way my Jatt (dominant caste) “friends” weaponized my caste name of “Chamars” into a horrendous slur to demean my family when I visited their homes. The discrimination was so intense in the Sikh community that we fled (like so many other Dalit Punjabis) to our own safe place of worship known as a Ravidassia Gurudwara.
I hid my caste identity for many years because I was afraid of the consequences of anyone finding out. Working in tech, I was especially afraid of being marginalized or harassed due to my caste. My sibling, a vocal organizer fighting caste discrimination, was doxxed and harassed at work for being part of the caste equity movement. This violence and discrimination are not limited to just me and my family. According to Equality Labs’ Caste In the United States Survey, 1 in 4 Dalits experiences physical or verbal assault, 1 in 3 experience discrimination in universities, and 2 in 3 face discrimination in the workplace.
These horrifying numbers show the harsh realities that caste-oppressed communities face. Wherever South Asians migrate, caste follows. Therefore, protection against caste discrimination must be added to civil rights law. The battle for civil rights among caste-oppressed communities is intersectional as a feminist, labor, queer, and human rights issue. It is also a survivor issue. Surviving requires safety, which is why so many have joined the movement to abolish caste and commit to healing.
Our powerful intercaste, interfaith, multiracial movement for caste equity unites the South Asian community. My fellow organizers and I have worked to create a movement where we are empowered, motivated, and optimistic. We are centering ourselves in love and resilience because we believe our movement can heal the intergenerational trauma and violence of caste.
Our coalition is driven by powerful interfaith and inter-caste organizations like the Coalition of Seattle Indians, Indian American Muslim Council, as well as anti-caste Ambedkarite organizations including the Ambedkar Association of North American, Ambedkar International Center, Ambedkar King Study Circle, Ambedkarite Buddhist Association of Texas, Boston Study Group, and many more
I see tremendous hope in healing our communities thanks to this historic ordinance to ban caste-based discrimination. And I know this is just the beginning.
The caste equity civil rights movement is changing how we see ourselves as South Asians and giving us the courage to unlearn, heal, and free ourselves from the brutal system that is caste. It is also extremely validating to see so many Americans join caste-oppressed people like myself to ban discrimination across American institutions. As we grow in numbers every day we feel the force of history on our side.
There are, of course, a small minority of the caste privileged who feel threatened by change. They use disinformation, verbal attacks, physical threats, misogyny, and bigotry to intimidate Dalit feminist leaders like me. They want to linger in hatred and distract from our call for civil rights and healing.
But the only people this ordinance affects are the bigoted ones. If you don’t practice caste discrimination, then you have nothing to worry about.
The caste-privileged have always intimidated and attacked us. Their discomfort derives from the stress of this vile system. We simply seek equal protection under the law. The fear, fragility, and bias of the caste privileged will not stop the caste oppressed from fighting for our rights. We are tired of suffering in silence.
Healing for the caste oppressed and the caste privileged alike begins with an honest intercaste conversation about the violence of this wretched system. For healing always begins with an acknowledgment of harm. We can then work together to ensure that harm never happens again. It might seem impossible, but I know it is real for we are living this work in the movement we are building.
Numerous brave survivors of violence have spoken out during the Public Comment meetings to offer their first-hand accounts of the bigotry and discrimination they have faced being caste oppressed. So, I ask those who are in opposition to the ordinance, can we choose love and healing? Can we come together in solidarity to end the cycle of violence in this horrendous caste system?
I know my answer is an enthusiastic yes. And I say this yes alongside my ancestors in this beautiful brilliant movement that we hope can heal not just ourselves but centuries of caste violence.
Shahira Bangar is a Dalit feminist organizer with Equality Labs. A member of Gen Z, she hopes to bring new perspectives to caste and gender in the South Asian community.
You don’t really mention whether you’re a practicing Sikh which is our main and only concern.