Why is the Indian Diaspora in Denial About Caste?

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of the EPW. 

 

Does the caste system travel with us when we cross the seas?

In 2005, the United States-based Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) lodged a complaint against the “negative” portrayal of Hinduism in California school textbooks, specifically the description of the caste system and the status of Indian women. Further, in 2016, changes proposed by the California Board of Education, some of which included replacing “India” with “South Asia” and “Hinduism” with “religion of ancient India” in school textbooks, were met with strong resistance by Scholars for People, a multidisciplinary group of academics. The group claimed that such changes would misrepresent the subcontinent. 

Against this backdrop, this feature maps the discussion beginning with Chinnaiah Jangam’s 2016 article, “What’s at Stake in Rewriting California State Textbooks?” which argued that since the Indian diaspora comprises primarily of caste Hindus, a bias towards a nostalgic and celebratory view of Hinduism is inevitable. 

In response, Vamsee Juluri, a Scholars for People member, accused Jangam of misrepresenting facts and unnecessarily bringing caste politics into the picture, and argued that the group only seeks an honest representation of Hinduism. Jangam responded by asserting that caste identity was central to the issue as people’s perspectives are moulded by their cultural and social experiences.

Click on the icons to read excerpts from the articles.

A few other works that have broadly responded to or are related to this discussion:

  1. Where There are Indians, There is Caste: A Reading List on Denial in Diaspora.
  2. Durban and Dalit Discourse by Shiv Visvanathan, 2001.
  3. Culture and Class in Indian Diaspora by Ravindra K Jain, 2001.
  4. Punjabis in England by Paramjit S Judge, 2002.
  5. Understanding Dalit Diaspora by Vivek Kumar, 2004.
  6. Caste among the Indian Diaspora in Africa by Suraj Milind Yengde, 2015.
  7. Casteism Among Punjabis in Britain by Meena Dhanda, 2017.
  8. Caste in Britain by Annapurna Waughray, 2018.

 

Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line—“Caste Among the Indian Diaspora Discussion.”

 

[Curated by Kieran Lobo (kie.lobo@gmail.com)]

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