The Trauma of Caste: A Dalit Feminist Meditation on Survivorship, Healing, and Abolition (Paperback)
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For readers of Caste and Radical Dharma, an urgent call to action to end caste apartheid, grounded in Dalit feminist abolition and engaged Buddhism.
“Dalit” is the name that we chose for ourselves when Brahminism declared us “untouchable.” Dalit means broken. Broken by suffering. Broken by caste: the world’s oldest, longest-running dominator system...yet although “Dalit” means broken, it also means resilient.
Caste—one of the oldest systems of exclusion in the world—is thriving. Despite the ban on Untouchability 70 years ago, caste impacts 1.9 billion people in the world. Every 15 minutes, a crime is perpetrated against a Dalit person. The average age of death for Dalit women is just 39. And the wreckages of caste are replicated here in the U.S., too—erupting online with rape and death threats, showing up at work, and forcing countless Dalits to live in fear of being outed.
Dalit American activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan puts forth a call to awaken and act, not just for readers in South Asia, but all around the world. She ties Dalit oppression to fights for liberation among Black, Indigenous, Latinx, femme, and Queer communities, examining caste from a feminist, abolitionist, and Dalit Buddhist perspective--and laying bare the grief, trauma, rage, and stolen futures enacted by Brahminical social structures on the caste-oppressed.
Soundararajan’s work includes embodiment exercises, reflections, and meditations to help readers explore their own relationship to caste and marginalization—and to step into their power as healing activists and changemakers. She offers skills for cultivating wellness within dynamics of false separation, sharing how both oppressor and oppressed can heal the wounds of caste and transform collective suffering. Incisive and urgent, The Trauma of Caste is an activating beacon of healing and liberation, written by one of the world’s most needed voices in the fight to end caste apartheid.
About the Author
THENMOZHI SOUNDARARAJAN is a Dalit American artist, community organizer, technologist, and theorist. She is the co-founder and ED of Equality Labs, the largest Dalit civil rights organization. Her work has been recognized by the White House, The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, The Museum of Contemporary Art and The Sorbonne.
“Thenmozhi Soundararajan is the most profound and prophetic Dalit American voice of her generation. The Trauma of Caste is a trailblazing and pathbreaking work that rips the veil of Brahmin supremacy in the South Asian diaspora within the United States as well as across the world.… I urge everyone to read this book and pass it forward, for these are the genocidal times that try our souls. Let the fire of resistance free all our oppressed peoples.”
—Professor Cornel West, New York Times best-selling author of Race Matters, Democracy Matters, and Black Prophetic Fire
“… an irresistible cri de coeur, The Trauma of Caste is at once an embodied meditation and simultaneously a literary hand grenade blowing open the torturous prison and agony of caste.… Thenmozhi makes clear that as genocide and ethnonationalism looms in South Asia, the stakes have never been higher. The responsibility for change cannot be on the shoulders of the oppressed. It is up to each and every one of us to rise for Dalit people now.”
—V (formerly Eve Ensler), author of The Vagina Monologues and The Apology
“Searing, powerful, and haunting, this book is a must-read for all of us who are committed to a world grounded in human rights and caste and gender equity. The book is a clarion call for revolution, and I would urge all to heed its call.”
—Govind Acharya, India Country Specialist, Amnesty International US
“…a tour de force for caste annihilation. Thenmozhi deftly weaves through personal story, ancestral resistance, and political histories to illuminate vital truths, shatter myths, world-build transnational solidarities, and uplift courage and love through this embodied text.… This work is intellectually fierce, profoundly necessary, and a compelling must-read for us all.”
—Harsha Walia, author of Undoing Border Imperialism and coauthor of Never Home
“The Trauma of Caste is a worthy successor to Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s work in its visionary analysis and epic sweep.… With profound compassion and brilliant insight, Thenmozhi Soundararajan shows us the damning truths of caste in our time and lights a path forward.”
—Minal Hajratwala, author of Leaving India, editor of Out! Stories from the New Queer India, Stanford/Columbia/Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholar, and founder of the Unicorn Authors Club
“Thenmozhi has long proved herself as a true movement organizer. In a direct response to Dr. Ambedkar’s call to ‘Educate, Agitate, and Organize’—she leads us through both practical and visionary strategies to take responsibility and do our part to abolish caste at both interpersonal and systemic levels, helping make a path toward liberatory futures.”
—Prachi Patankar, anti-caste and feminist activist and writer
“The Trauma of Caste, by one of North America’s leading Dalit activists, is a powerful combination of moving personal memoir, political philosophy and history, and thoughtful meditation exercises and reflections. Thenmozhi Soundararajan’s work is both a call for justice and a toolbox for transformation. This book will be an invaluable resource for teaching and for activist work. It provides historical, textual, and material insight into how caste oppression has manifested in visible and invisible ways, embedded in social systems, and internalized in all South Asian bodies over generations. This should be a required read for students and scholars of Hinduism and all South Asian religions.”
—The Feminist Critical Hindu Studies Collective
“Caste is one of the urgent moral, multifaith issues of our time, and The Trauma of Caste is a critical intervention, helping us to better understand how caste operates, what it feels like, and most importantly, why we must work to abolish it, once and for all.”
—Simran Jeet Singh, executive director for the Aspen Institute’s Religion & Society Program and author of The Light We Give
“… a powerful reintroduction to Buddhism as a response to the unjust suffering of caste.… The Trauma of Caste is an instant socially engaged Buddhist classic and is crucial reading for all who are committed to Sanghas rooted in liberation in all beings.”
—Rhonda V. Magee, author of The Inner Work of Racial Justice
“Thenmozhi Soundararajan captures with precision the experience of being a survivor of spiritual violence and how religion, which has been a tool for the oppression of Dalits, can be a foundation for our freedom when we are awarded consent and acknowledgment of our caste soul wound.… Her work creates new possibilities in the darkest moment of our history, and I urge all who care about the future of our world to read it now.”
—Manjula Pradeep, Dalit feminist leader and cofounder of the National Council of Women Leaders and the Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network
“In the face of the overwhelming pain and stress inflicted upon caste-oppressed people, Thenmozhi calls readers to participate in a fully embodied transnational love, making radical and empathetic connections with other oppressed communities.… As a Dalit, I welcome this work that further paves the way for all of our collective healing from caste.”
—Dr. Sunder John Boopalan, assistant professor at Canadian Mennonite University and author of Memory, Grief, and Agency
“The Trauma of Caste places the experiences of Dalit people firmly at the center of a global story about race and caste they have long been excluded from and uses that experience to teach us all about power, about survival, about changemaking.… Every Black activist should read this book, every immigrant rights activist should read this book, every survivor of violence should read this book—because it holds within it seeds for our collective future.”
—Malkia Devich Cyril, founding director of MediaJustice and principal at the Radical Loss Project
“The Trauma of Caste deconstructs caste oppression and considers possibilities for healing through a Dalit American feminist lens, in conversation with the writings not only of Dalit thinkers but of those from Black, Indigenous, and other historically exploited communities.… As a Dalit American, I am inspired by Soundararajan’s important efforts to raise awareness about caste and bring about healing.”
—Vauhini Vara, journalist and author of Immortal King Rao
“In Thenmozhi’s stories there is much to learn not only about caste in the United States, but the trauma caste engenders for all of us. As a Shudra sufferer of caste in India, I urge everyone to read this book. It is essential reading for all those committed to dignity, human rights, and a caste-free world.”
—Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, author of The Shudras, From a Shepherd Boy to an Intellectual, and Why I Am Not a Hindu
“This deeply spiritually grounded meditation on the trauma and afterlives of caste apartheid deserves our global intersectional feminist solidarity. Thenmozhi Soundararajan shows us in this book that the work of freedom must happen not only in the head and the heart, but also in the body. She has me convinced that the work of eliminating caste, a dominating system that predates white supremacy, will help to free us all.”
—Brittney Cooper, author Eloquent Rage and Beyond Respectability