Dalit American Activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan Discusses Caste And Its Implications In Her Book

The Trauma of Caste FI

When was the last time you felt embodied? Truly present in your body unafraid, unjudged, and free? Maybe a first kiss, the electricity of dancing at a club, a professional win.  When did you last feel deeply connected to all beings and to life? Freedom like this is precious. It moves you in the places you feel stuck, and reminds us that love is such a powerful antidote to the years of judgment and dehumanization we all endure under caste.  

Such freedom eludes many of us who live in societies dominated by caste. The legacy of caste forces us to carry stories of deprivation, diminishment, and fear. Having been robbed of choice and consent, we forget that we are deserving of power. We are deserving of glory and joy. We are deserving of life. 

All this is why I wrote the Trauma of Caste. We have so many powerful books that speak to political and economic deprivation of caste but very few that give us permission to uncover the grief, trauma, and dispossession that has taken hold of our bodies in caste-ridden societies that determine our self-worth, who we can love, and who we can worship. I write about this pain through the lens of the caste soul wound, a wound that binds the caste privileged and the caste oppressed. Because it is taboo to talk about the pain of caste, and has trained our nervous systems to accept inequity and relinquish consent in all of the domains of our lives. 

But what if we could heal ourselves from the wound of caste? Could choice be returned to us, and might we embrace pleasure instead of recoil from judgment. Imagining the annihilation of caste is not just about freeing oppressed people, righting the wrongs of the past, and making amends through reparations. It is also about healing. 

Many dominant caste people view their small acts of allyship as patronage, thinking themselves above or apart from the ongoing violence of caste.  Yet caste supremacy lives deep in their bodies. So much work remains to be done to build resilience within the bodies of the privileged castes so that their fragility does not prevent the progress of human and civil rights for all peoples. Meanwhile the bodies, minds, and spirits of the caste-oppressed  buckle under the burden of systems that dehumanize them. There is such suffering. 

The battle to end case apartheid is our greatest reckoning as South Asian people. We can choose to evade this issue and let millions suffer, or we can embrace discomfort and begin to build beloved communities. Together we must examine the caste soul wound and understand its lineage. At the same time, we need a new generation of therapists unafraid to discuss how caste has impacted our family and social systems to address the trauma in our peoples.

This is difficult work. It requires us to challenge the respectability politics of caste and unearth unsavory violent histories of caste, power, and dogmatism. And yet, if we are willing to do this, if we are willing to understand that discomfort is simply a passing state, we will inherit our real riches as human beings: we will know each other. For too long caste has diminished us, othered us from each other. This is why I am a dalit feminist and caste abolitionist. I want pleasure and possibility to be our guiding principles for freedom, not domination and diminishment. I want everything for us all and believe that confronting the trauma of caste will be our  awakening. My book tells not only my own story but also offers a historical perspective, data, exercises, and worksheets so that you too can begin your healing journey. Freedom is our birthright, and I hope you take the leap to reclaim yourself from caste and join the loving movement for caste abolition.

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