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The Trauma of Caste

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This book is everything you need to deepen your understanding of caste and how it plays out every day in India and the US. The intersection of caste, class, and race is so much bigger than Americans think.

Timely that I finished this and NPR wrote and article about the push for caste discrimination reform in CA!

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An excellent and interesting book. I read this book for a BIPOC committee. Everyone involved had a lot of comments about this work. It's good for sparking insightful conversation and open dialogue, particularly for in a book club setting, but it would, also, be a compelling book to read on your own.

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I read and enjoyed Radical Dharma. It is a Black Buddhist exploration of systemic racial injustice against Black folks. It also uses Buddhist thought to progress toward liberation. The publisher recommended this book to readers of Radical Dharma, and I could tell from the title alone the parallels. Indian society oppresses Dalit peoples in very similar ways to how US American society oppresses Black folks. For example, they were both the source of enslaved labor in the 1800s. The author, a Dalit American woman, offers a very personal exploration of what it is to be a part of the Dalit diaspora. She also explores how her Buddhist belief system helps her navigate her trauma and advocate for societal change.

The author divides the book into four sections she calls mediations – The Existence of Caste, The Source of Caste, From Wounds to Liberation, and The End of Caste. There are also two appendixes that I found so meaningful I think they’re better thought of as part of the main book. The first explores Dalit social justice activists throughout time like B.R. Ambedkar and Phoolan Devi. The second is healing meditations for those truamatized by caste.

If you have ever heard of an “untouchable” caste this book makes it clear that this is not the name that members of this caste chooses for themselves. Many choose the name “Dalit” instead. Some choose other names, but Dalit is the most common.

Dalit means broken. Broken by suffering. Broken by caste.

loc 268
Another way of referring to those traumatized by caste is casteoppressed.

There is some controversy on exactly where caste came from. The author makes it clear she believes it came from the traditional faith of Hinduism. Caste was then weaponized by British colonizers to further divide those they colonized and make it easier to maintain dominance over them. However, the author acknowledges some people believe otherwise. I myself am not a scholar in this area. But however it began, caste is intermingled with Hinduism and Indian society across the diaspora. A person born into a lower caste is told they deserve to be at the lowest level of society because of sins they committed in a past life. That all of their suffering is their own fault, and they don’t deserve to rise out of it. The message also is that those in higher castes deserve to be there. Any suffering they put on those of lower castes is simply what those of the lower caste “deserve.” If you are at all familiar with the history of racism in the US, then it is immediately quite clear how damaging these societal beliefs are. It is also clear why they need to be overcome.

The pain and suffering for Dalit peoples is not of the past – it is now. The author offers sobering statistics (with references). They include:

54% of Dalit children are undernourished (loc 500)
83 of every 1,000 Dalit children die before their first birthday (loc 500)
more than 67% of Dalit women have experienced sexual violence (loc 509)
the average age of death for a Dalit woman is 39 (loc 509)
45% of Dalits do not know how to read and write (loc 3327)
48% of villages deny Dalits access to water (loc 3330)
The author explores how we can all begin to fight for freedom, justice, and equality. She talks about how important it is for oppressed people to be able to begin to imagine being free as the first step. She also speaks to allies about being aware that a move toward equality might feel like discomfort to us. She also speaks about the importance of supporting the experiences of the oppressed. Being cautious and mindful in our words and deeds is a message we all can benefit from.

An area that could have been improved on is where the author speaks about other religions in India and Dalit participation in them. While the section on Islam is well-written, making it clear how caste is not a part of Islam but can end up being enacted upon Dalit Muslims anyway, the same clarity is not brought to the section on Christianity. It makes it sound like social justice is a focus of only specifically Dalit led Christian sects. The section ignores other sects that follow similar mores and even the Bible verse Galatians 3:28 “…ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Similarly, Judaism is skipped over, but Dalit Jewish people do exist. I wished these had been explored more. I appreciate that the author is careful to encourage and support Dalits in whatever faith they choose – including remaining Hindu. But I would have liked either a more even-handed representation of other faiths or a purely Buddhist perspective.

I empathize very much with the author’s concerns about modern-day genocides. It is absolutely correct that society at large is not taking these atrocities seriously the way we should. But the author mentions that we went to war in WWII over the Holocaust. That’s inaccurate. Nations went to war to protect their own nations. While the Holocaust was taken seriously after the fact, it’s not why nations went to war. Indeed, most nations turned away Jewish refugees at the time. What we are seeing with the general ignoring of current genocidal atrocities is sadly a repeat of how nations reacted in the past. We haven’t learned what we should have from the horrors of the Holocaust.

Overall, this is an eye-opening book about caste-based oppression throughout the South Asian diaspora. It offers healing for the casteoppressed and asks us all to become allies in the work to liberate these people. It is a meaningful introduction to this liberating labor for both casteoppressed people and allies.

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I learned so much about the oppression of Dalits and their struggle for justice in Thenmozhi Spundarajan’s book. It is an engaging read with a lot of intersectional solidarity with Black folks. The music in this reel is by Dalit singer Kadubai Kharat who fights for caste justice.
*Thank you to NetGalley for the free copy in exchange for my honest review.*

Check out my full review. (This is a hyperlink to my blog).

*I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.*

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This book is likely one of the first to examine Dalit history and South Asian caste politics in the US. Sujata Gidla's Ants Among Elephants was a groundbreaking memoir too but Soundararajan brings in a more layered and scholarly take as well. The author takes it even further by issuing clear calls to action and providing approaches to healing. This is a deeply illuminating and enlightening book and deserves to sit alongside recent works like Ijeoma Uluo's So You Want to Talk About Race.

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My thanks to North Atlantic Books and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.

In The Trauma of Caste, Dalit American activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan considers caste discrimination, one of the oldest systems of discrimination in the world, and its horrific and scarring impacts on millions, not only in South Asia with which the system is associated but also amongst the diaspora in America and other parts of the world. The book explores not only the broader impacts of caste discrimination and the various ways it wounds, damages, and breaks its targets, but addresses it at the individual level highlighting how the wounds pass on through generations, the challenges and persistent dangers that the oppressed and indeed wider society continue to be faced with today, and also the journey of healing (not simply the pursuit of justice, though this can be healing too), where spirituality, love, and solidarity play key roles.

The core text of the book is divided into four meditations, structured around the facts and beliefs that caste is an extant truth; that it is a human creation; that there are paths towards freedom or healing; and that the system can be brought to an end. In these meditations, the author considers the fact of caste and the trauma that it gives rise to in the caste oppressed, historical aspects including its treatment in mythology and how it has found its way into or into the practice of even religions which do not in essence accept such divisions, how it plays out in certain areas like the digital space, adds to other factors like gender to exacerbate vulnerability and harm, and also how the system has become replicated even in places not traditionally associated with the system.

In these explorations, the author incorporates her and her family’s own experiences and wounds, and also considers her own path to healing as well as steps that need to be taken to bring and end to this system. Four appendices look into renowned activists and contributors to the Dalit struggle; spiritual aspects; facts on caste violence and socioeconomic indicators; and provide worksheets to address each person’s experience whether from a dominant or oppressed caste.

I became interested in exploring this book essentially because a few months ago I read volume on Dalit studies (a manuscript I copyedited) which provided a detailed look into several issues and aspects concerning the community, from politics and socioeconomic indicators, to the digital space, music and cinema, journalism, and the issue of reparations among others. This was a book that I found very informative and eye-opening, and one aspect it indirectly alerted me to (through a brief discussion by one contributor), and of which I was not at all aware, was caste discrimination amongst the diaspora. So of course, when I came across this book, I was keen to read it.

And indeed, it was these discussions that were most revealing for me. Soundarajan highlights how the caste and related discrimination travelled almost with the first immigrants, with immigrant agricultural labourers in the United States and Canada continuing to practice untouchability (like not eating meals in the same place as Dalit workers) in the early nineteenth century, or how dominant caste immigrants in the early twentieth century argued on grounds of their ‘high’ caste against naturalization laws which excluded them, to more modern day instances including the recent (2020) caste discrimination case in Cisco. On a more personal level, Soundararajan experienced it in her own interactions with other South Asians even when as a child she revealed her caste unwittingly to a friend.

More broadly, the book highlights not only the violence and trauma that the caste oppressed continue to face in South Asia and across the globe, but also how these wounds are really in the nature of soul wounds which continue on, across generations. She also explores the idea of how other issues we face today like environmental damage are related to structural processes of exploitation (an idea also written about by Françoise Vergès in A Feminist Theory of Violence where she argues that no form of violence can be addressed separately from other forms). Soundararajan also encourages her readers to consider their own relationship to caste, the attitudes and ideas for instance one might have imbibed from one’s upbringing or experiences.

I found I learned a lot from this book especially about caste discrimination amongst the immigrant community, and the author’s urging each one of us to consider our own connections and beliefs on caste and also appreciated her sharing her and her family’s story and trauma which wouldn’t have been an easy thing to do.

However, while she talks about healing, paths to end the system of caste, as well as measures like affirmative action or the availability of spaces for Dalits to express their opinions and raise their issues in the digital space for instance, the book overall left me feeling somewhat despairing and bleak. While the issues and challenges that the author highlights are no doubt ones that are significant and need to be urgently addressed, I felt that steps and developments from which one can draw hope of improvement are equally relevant in encouraging the fight against caste and casteism but somehow her critique of these (either their flaws or the challenges that are threatening them) came though more strongly than the hope one can draw from them. Affirmative action/reservation schemes have their shortcomings and may be insufficient as she points out but they have enabled many to improve their socioeconomic position and can be seen as a first step; alternative media and the digital space (as she acknowledges) have enabled Dalit voices to be heard and issues to be raised; Dalit cinema and music have enabled stories to be told; there are small but significant victories against the corporate exploitation of indigenous land like the Niyamgiri case (which upheld tribal rights over their own lands). And we can draw encouragement from these. Also, in her profiles of activists and figures who have contributed to the Dalit struggle, Kanshi Ram (mentioned briefly elsewhere in the text) I felt ought to also have been included with his DS-4 (Dalit Shoshit Samak Sangharsh Samiti) which helped empower and build solidarity among Dalits.

I was glad to have read this book and appreciated much in it; while it does provide both a basic understanding of the issue and the impacts and challenges that need to be addressed, for myself I felt reading the other volume first, which discussed a larger range of themes, highlighting issues and challenges but also hopes and aspirations, helped me contextualize the discussion here better.

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Ok this was such an insightful book for me. I am a strong believer of the fact that men believe equality exists, higher caste people believe caste system doesn't affect anyone anymore. This book was needed to throw at least some light on the pain of the other side.

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This is an eye-opener for anyone unaware of the far-reaching effects of caste, as well as those who thought they were informed in the subject matter. The author explains terms for those unfamiliar with the caste system and makes excellent comparisons to how different caste systems exist in the United States. I recommended it for our library's Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) collection.

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I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is a great and informative read!

This book talks about the history of caste, its social impacts, and the mental and socioeconomic realities of the caste system. Soundararajan does a great job of showing us both the macro and the micro - the big picture of the issues with the caste system, but also the individual impacts it's had on her life and the lives of others. This book explicitly lays out the trauma of being untouchable including violence and abuse similar to racism, sexism, and religious oppression.

Soundararajan shares how caste impacts life even outside of India including in the tech world and how the caste system harms everyone. The book is written in a way that you don't need to know anything about the caste system as there's enough history and context to explain how the problems have gotten so dire and where they came from. Soundararajan also talks about how caste discrimination mirrors other acts of violence around the world like genocide, but was surprised that the recent genocide in Tigray wasn't mentioned as an example.

This book is a great overview of why the caste system should be abolished.

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On my own journey to understand the role caste played in my family and ancestors' lives, this was a necessary look at the way it is and has been harming millions of people for generations. As I engage with all my material for work, I'll be keeping Soundarajan's calls to action in mind, pausing to sit with discomfort, and trying to dig deeper to understand the most effective ways I can engage in the work against caste oppression, in my career and personal life. I genuinely think this is a necessary text for those of us working in Global South Asian Studies to pick up, read, reflect with, digest, assign, engage. This way, we can do the hard and necessary work to engage in a caring way with the topic of caste so that we can better reflect with our students, learning alongside them while we teach.

I found it especially impressive that she was able to write with such grace about something so personally painful. One of the most valuable sections for me was the section on caste in other religions. The message to hold space in your own religious practice for the ways it has harmed others was so well put and so firmly stated. There is fruit for a lot of personal reflection there.

Thanks to Netgalley and North Atlantic Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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For my work on racial allyship and accountability, I’ve read a lot of pop nonfiction books about race in the United States. They range from solidly constructed to cringey and flimsy; they can be philosophies, memoirs, and workbooks. Even though I also contribute to white supremacy, I fundamentally experience all of these books as an American person of color. Much of @dalitdiva’s book was generically familiar to me—she lays out the basics of caste oppression, and does so within all the genres I laid out—but I read it instead from my position as a Brahmin. That is, I am the white person of this book.

This book is written for an American audience, albeit a wide-ranging one that includes both caste-oppressed and dominant-caste South Asians, so it starts with the basics—but we need those. I’m grateful that my parents didn’t try to pretend caste didn’t affect us in the US, but Soundararajan’s perspective as a Dalit is far more valuable. She balances the personal and familial with larger flashpoints and events in the US and India. Every Bay Area Desi knows about the infamous Berkeley human trafficking case, but no one had ever framed it for me through the lens of caste before. A lot of my experience of reading this was explicitly thinking about things that should already have been obvious to me.

Soundararajan is interested in transnational and cross-racial solidarity, as well as faith practice. She pulls off the delicate balance between showing caste’s roots in Hinduism and manifestations in other religions without foreclosing the possibility of religion in an ideal world after caste oppression. And if you read this book, you must read the appendices, especially the one that profiles historical anti-caste oppression activists.

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The Trauma of Caste by Thenmozhi Soundararajan is an intimate look on classism and racism through a feminist an abolitionist perspective. This is a very important and timely work and offers real hope and real solutions. A must read.

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Miigweetch NetGalley and North Atlantic Books for sending this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

This is a non-fiction account of casteism, told from the perspective of a Dalit woman, a member of the so-called “untouchable” caste. It's the author’s response to the inter-generational pain of caste and explores ideas for how society can separate, and ultimately heal, from this violence.

During quarantine, one of my go-to background noise TV shows was “Indian Matchmaking”, a reality show that spanned for two seasons and focused on the efforts of an arranged matchmaker working with young Indian singles living both in Indian and America. In trying to learn more about the culture I was seeing portrayed on the show, I stumbled onto many discussions of caste, which is what drew me to this book and led me to requesting it.

I am extremely grateful to the author for sharing her experiences, at great personal expense to herself and her safety. Being an activist for Dalit causes - which live in direct opposition to the barbaric idea of casteism - comes at a cost.

This book is trying to be a lot of things to a lot of people: a feminist meditation on how to heal cycles of inter-generational trauma, an introductory course to caste and Brahmanism, and much more. At times the structure and flow buckle under the weight of these expectations, nevertheless, more conversations about caste need to be happening in order for change to occur. For that reason I believe this is an incredibly necessary and important work.

The idea of spiritual sanctioned slavery is shocking to me; I simply could not believe how ubiquitous caste is even among the South-East Asian diaspora and how rarely talked it’s about. The fact that people are being trafficked and sold into slavery in the United States of America in 2022 because of caste, can be denied work because of caste, and yet our laws offer no protections against this discrimination because caste is not named? This must change.

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This was an amazing explanation of the caste system as well as the horrifying realities of the Dalits throughout south Asia and those of the diaspora.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Thenmozhi Soundararajan, whom you might be knowing as @dalitdiva on instagram, is a Tamil immigrant in the USA.

She writes about how casteism is practiced among immigrants too and how it affects their lifestyle and mental health, among other things. She works through her organisation, Equality Labs, to create awareness in the USA about caste discrimination that Indians face in universities and offices. She also gives instances of how she felt like an outsider at numerous places because of her caste. She documents the anti-caste movements in the diaspora and how, at each level, they faced resistance. She also focuses on the events in India in the last few years and their affect on the themes of this book.

Her work is direct, on-point and with a strong conviction for everything she says. Her writing apparently stems from extensive research alongside personal experience. Because when we talk about social justice, experiences of living people are as vital as past research.
I believe that to get a better understanding of this book, one should have basic knowledge of caste system and its consequences. Then it would be easier to read the impact of caste on Indian diaspora. For example, she wrote about casteism in various religions, which I didn't know until I read this. The author also narrates the impact of caste on other aspects of social justice like police, law, etc. which I already had a basic idea about. It is always better to learn about sensitive topics like these from someone's experiences than from the internet and media.

What I liked about this book is how she questions those who presume that they aren't casteist. She makes us realise that casteism is practiced in indirect ways so nobody elaborates on casteism like how they do racism and sexism.

It is a short read and can be read in one or two times. The english and the narration are simple enough so anyone can go for it.

Thank you for the review copy on Netgalley. My review is voluntary.

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As someone who is trying to find their place in Hinduism, I found this book enlightening. This is a powerful book that really delves into the realities of life for dalits and the marginalisation of regular people due to inane rules.

It was fascinating to learn about the history of caste and caste based privilege, and then go on to learn about caste discrimination in modern South Asia and the diaspora in the west.

Soundararajan has an eloquent and passionate voice and I recommend this book for anyone interested in the realities of Hinduism.

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Thanks to Netgalley and North Atlantic Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

This was a fantastic book - I'm not Hindu, and even as an Indian American I've always felt disconnected from the concept of caste, until I went back to India a few years back and heard my relatives talking about someone being in a different caste than us. I didn't realize we were even considered part of the caste system, much less that anyone in our family actually took it at any value - obviously this book doesn't heavily delve into Kerala and Christians in the caste system (though it definitely mentions it), but it's a fantastic and well-needed piece. There's so much about caste that gets unsaid by our community, and even less caste-oppressed voices that are given the chance to actually speak about it.

I'll definitely have to reread this book in the future - I wasn't really in the mood for a nonfiction piece unfortunately so I think I'd just absorb more with reading it when I'm in the mood, but even with that I found myself interested in this book, and I think it's just an overall great book to read, so thanks again to the publisher for allowing me the chance to read it.

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My most anticipated non-fiction release of the year 2022!

And I am quite impressed. Yes, live and let live!

Thank you, North Atlantic Books, for the advance reading copy.

I have been actively searching for a up-to-date adult nonfiction read on Dalit and discrimination towards people of certain caste or community.

This book answered my prayers and I got it right during the time I am really concerned about these issues.

Four main sections with extra parts. I love the presentation and compilation of each part. The book starts with the basic description of how caste exists and the source of it. I do feel this is the part (the first two sections) which is most important.

Even if you don't have much time to read this book cover to cover, please read the first two sections. They have all the basic explanations and answers why and how caste exist.

Beyond that, the book further discuss on how this caste system affect our culture, how it affects gender and violence, how we are all affected as a whole because of its unwanted effects.

The third and the fourth sections deal with the harmful effects of the caste system, specially of the discrimination and violence faced by the Dalits. The last section deals with how we can end this.

Even though laws are there, it is not easy and practical as it sounds to get support and protection. It will take time. It will take generations and generations to abolish a system which costs lives.

It's books like this which will actually spread awareness and the much needed basic information. The harm is already done more so because of the fact that we aren't as knowledgeable and informed as we think about this issue.

Kudos to the author for this book. If possible, this book needs to be read as a part of our educational syllabus.

Thank you, North Atlantic Books, for the advance reading copy.

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