A black man from the US, Sheedi woman from Pakistan and Dalit man from India came together for a Facebook live session on Saturday to discuss cultural, racial and caste differences persisting in South Asian and American societies.
The session was organised by Equality Labs, a South Asian organisation working to fight caste-based oppression, Islamophobia, white supremacy and religious intolerance.
The session was conducted in English, Urdu and Hindi and garnered a lot of viewership from the South Asian diaspora.
“Caste is a curse Dalits have to go through every day”
Chandrshekhar Azad, the chief of the Bhim Army, a Dalits rights organisation in India, pointed out that there were two Indias: one for the upper caste and one for the Dalit Bahujan people.
The Dalit caste in India is considered to be “untouchables” and the “scheduled caste”. These people suffer the highest percentage of atrocities and discrimination from Indians. “Caste is a curse that Dalit Bahujan has to go through every day,” Azad said.
He said that only 26% of crimes against the Dalit people are registered and the percentage has dropped to 16% ever since the Modi government has come into power.
“The emergency is graver and graver now. We [Dalit people] face mob lynchings and discrimination,” Azad said, adding how he has experienced police brutality and was arrested for trying to protect Dalit people from caste violence.
“The fascist sections of our society do not believe in our rights — it makes me want to cry, the level of oppression we all face,” he added.
“We love our thick lips, our extra curly hair…”
From Pakistan, Tanzeela Qambrani, the first Afro-Pakistani woman to serve in Pakistani politics, spoke about the discrimination faced by Sheedis.
“The case of the Sheedis is like leaves separated from the tree…” she said, pointing out that although Sheedi was a word meant to be an insult, like “slave”, it was still attached to her name after all these years.
Many of Pakistan’s Sheedi people came from East Africa and were brought to South Asia as slaves. They are still, however, treated as inferiors because of their dark skin tone.
“We love our thick lips, our extra curly hair…we deserve rights no matter how we look,” she said.
“If there is a robbery, if there is an inter-caste conflict, the assumption is that 50% blame must be with the Sheedi person,” Qambrani said. “Sheedi children are discouraged from schooling because they’re assumed to be criminals.”
Sheedi men leave school because of the indignity, and Sheedi women get ahead, learn more. But then Sheedi men won’t marry Sheedi women because they don’t want black children, the politician pointed out.
Coming under one banner
Black rights activist and philosopher Dr Cornel West said white supremacy seeks to divide you.
Dr West, an intellectual and academic, has been very vocal about the rights of black people in the United States and has been working on it through books and conferences.
He believes that “Now more and more people are seeing that even the black neoliberal president could not speak to the issues of poverty, of imperialism, of class subordination.”
Responding to Dr West, both Qambrani and Azad said that the Black Lives Matter movement has been a learning experience for them and helped them shape their own campaigns. “We are together in this struggle,” Azad said.
“Our hearts beat for each other. I promise today to Dr Cornel West and Tanzeela Qambrani to fight as hard as I can against the rising tide of fascism,” he added.
Qambrani said that for liberation two things are necessary: education and opportunity that we [Sheedis] have been denied.
“We want to be taught how to fish, how to take care of ourselves. The rest we will do,” she said.
In his ending note, Dr Cornel said the the biggest way to face racial discrimination was through “courage and revolutionary love”. “It is to see the world through a the lens of those that are oppressed so we extend solidarity and work towards justice.”