Caste Matters

The South Asian Studies Institute’s Commitment to Anti-Caste

The South Asian Studies Institute (SASI), its community, its staff and its leaders stand in solidarity with those who continue to face oppression, violence, segregation and so much more based on an ancient system of hereditary social status hierarchy, oppressive boundaries of separation/exclusion and personal vilification via caste. These issues are not pertaining to South Asia as a region alone, but manifest themselves within the many diasporas across the world where South Asians reside. 

 In 2020, the SASI dedicated itself to engaging in research, activities events and outcomes that question, interrogate and dismantle caste hierarchies in local and regional spaces.

 We are committed to partnering and supporting individuals, grassroots organizations and community institutions doing anti-caste work. We are committed to interrogating ourselves, our own work, our privileges, our learned behaviours and actions. We will create opportunities for mentorship, growth and engagement with communities, youth, students, etc., who are directly impacted or influenced by the insidious nature of the caste system.

As we build momentum, learning, resources, debate, dialogue, partnerships and actionable items, we urge you to join us in anti-caste work. Some suggested ways are to submit a short personal reflection in the form of a blog at Subscribe to our newsletter here. We encourage you to take a look at some of the local organizations like Chetna, SANSAD and the Poetic Justice Foundation who take up the meaningful work of anticaste and caste awareness. Take part in reading from a Caste reading list curated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission of UK.

As part of the lecture series on Caste at SASI – Dr. Surinder Jodhka, Professor of Sociology at the Centre for Social Systems, presented his ground breaking and important research on April 23rd, 2021. The lecture, as described by SASI Director Dr. Satwinder Kaur Bains, is part of the SASI’s ongoing and meaningful commitment to “undertake the work of dismantling caste as part of our daily practice and research.”

The lecture focused on the historical roots of how rural Punjab had always been a divided region but at the same time it had been the entry point for invasions into what is modern day India and was a symbol of strength in terms of sowing the seeds of cultivation, border security and multi-faith spiritual script writings.

Dr Jodhka’s talk shed light on the most important axis of this division – through caste, which also overlaps with class. According to Dr. Jodhka, “the majority of the agricultural land is owned and cultivated by Jatts and a few other minor caste groups, such as Sainis, Kambojs, Rajputs and Labanas. Dalits, who make for more than 30% of the state population, are almost all landless.”

Dr. Jodhka’s presentation connected the audience to the current situation with the ongoing Farmers Protest which has provided an opportunity to rebuild solidarities across different castes and classes. Unlike other regions of India, Punjab has the idiom of Sikhi that could help in building newer solidarities across caste communities and opportunities to reflect on the role different castes in farming in Punjab villages.… Read more

Due to COVID restrictions SASI’s annual symposium related to the South Asian diaspora was a zoom conversation. The symposium featured a keynote address by noted scholar Dr. Suraj Yengde followed by a Q&A moderated by SASI Director Dr. Satwinder Kaur Bains. Dr. Yengde, a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School is author of the

bestseller “Caste Matters” which was recently listed as “Best Non-Fiction Book of the Decade” by The Hindu. Suraj is also co-editor of “The Radical in Ambedkar Critical Reflection” published by Allen Lane, 2018. Suraj is India’s first Dalit Ph.D. holder from an African university. He curates a widely popular column “Dalitality” covering caste related issues for the Indian Express. He is a human Rights attorney, who is also an anti-caste and anti-racism advocate. He has been an ongoing contributor to the Columnist at The Huffington Post, Hindustan Times, LiveMint, The Mexican Times, and The Conversation.

In his talk Dr. Yengde looked at the kinetic sources of caste and its porosity among the diasporic Indian society. The ambiguity of caste identity was so ingrained in the habits of ‘lower castes’ diaspora that it was left to forgetfulness. However, the cultures and lived realities of oppressed caste groups remained intact in their worship, eating habits and intermarriages among others.… Read more