As a 37 year old, I now can call myself an anti-caste advocate. Or atleast someone who is constantly assessing and reassessing how I maintain being an anti-caste advocate through the conversations I have, the work that I do, how I raise my children and how I weave my academics into these conversations. My path to this self proclaimed label (so perhaps a label that could be challenged) has been forged through my lived experiences, my own learning and with the humility of knowing that I still have so much work yet to do. Caste never entered my world until I was in my 20’s, and this was because as a supposed ‘jatt,’ I never had to navigate the language, the hidden codes and the not-so coded music, culture and bravado which emanated through the culture of being ‘jatt.’ It was marriage that brought that caste privilege and identity to the fore, as I think it is for many South Asians like myself who navigate multiple identities and conflicting ideologies in the Canadian diaspora. It was thus in my 20s that I challenged caste privilege in my own family, chose to marry who I wanted, and took the step to move forward in my life with that as an ongoing conversation.
Many things shape how I negotiate and challenge caste privilege and look to anti-caste as a framework. The most prominent are looking to my Sikh identity and to my motherhood. As a Sikh, it is the epicentre of my faith and my philosophy from the founder Baba Nanak, to the last living Guru, Gobind Singh Ji, that caste be eradicated and that caste oppression be challenged. We know of course that culturally speaking, Punjabiyat is very much maintained by keeping those caste oppressive systems in tact. And so, part of my anti-caste advocacy includes a consistent revisiting of my Sikh identity, through history and gurbani, to create avenues for the space and dialogue to challenge casteist conversations.
The second way in which I activate my anti-caste advocacy is by raising children who are aware of caste so that they are equipped to challenge the discourse of caste. We cannot *not* teach our children what caste is and think that it will disappear. Rather, by not discussing it, we only embolden the ideologies and hierarchies and the music and culture that persists in its normativity. And so my children don’t identify as a caste, they identify as Sikhs, knowing however what jatt means – so that when they’re confronted with this in school (and they will be), they’re equipped with the language and the Sikh history to challenge those around them.
Eradicating a centuries old system so entrenched into a cultural psyche is no easy task – but if we do this through our own actions in our local spaces, working in solidarity with Dalit activists, etc., and through the teaching of children, there is hope in the horizon for a change and a shift.