South Asians at the margins – queer, Dalit, Muslim, Bangladeshi, Tibetan, Sikh, Nepali, Pakistani, Shi’a and religious minority backgrounds – have been excluded from the institutions and cultural spaces in the United States that are catered to South Asian communities. From South Asian history departments across American universities to art spaces that uplift marginalized voices, marginalized communities are made invisible by upper caste institutions.
In the last decade, there has been a rise in right-wing Hindu fascism. The success of the election of Prime Minister Modi and his RSS counterparts points to growing Hindu nationalism in India. We see upper-caste Hindus in America, like the Hindu American Foundation, who constitute one of the wealthiest South Asian communities, use their resources to shape policy with the Republican Hindu Coalition in ways that help perpetuate the structures of caste and other forms of oppression. Even in progressive South Asian circles in the country, events and opportunities for community-building frequently exclude the experiences of those who aren’t cisgender, fair-skinned, upper-caste, and Indian. Most South Asian institutions and associations, ranging from religious, political, to academic spaces, are run by upper caste leadership.
When art galleries and museums feature the work of South Asians, they tend to focus on Brahmin and upper caste artists, who are connected to wealth. Dalit and Muslim artists’ identities are erased while upper-caste and white artists are able to profit off their oppression.
Equality Labs just released areport on Caste in the United States, detailing the ways in which caste discrimination impacts South Asians on the margins – from social isolation and exclusion at workplaces, to the discrimination they face within their communities. “All of the inequalities have been embedded in all major South Asian American institutions, and they extend into American mainstream institutions that have significant South Asian immigrant populations,” the report notes.
As South Asian Muslims, Dalits, and creatives of marginalized communities, we have thousands of experiences that speak to this exclusion, and artists, activists, and community advocates in New York are fed up.
In a historic event to fight back against our marginalization, restructure our representation, and reconfigure our power, South Asian organizers are hosting PARTY ZINDABAD!, a benefit, bazaar and art show showcasing artists from Dalit, Muslim and queer communities. Co-sponsored by South Asian Diaspora Collective,Bangladeshi Historical Memory Project, and Equality Labs, this space will showcase the works of diasporic South Asian artists Ayqa Khan, Shurmmi, Khushboo Gulati, Thenmozhi Soundararajan and more.
In the spirit of direct political action, all proceeds from the art showcase and benefit will go to East Coast Solidarity Summer (ECSS), a radical political education camp dedicated to South Asian organizing. This 5-day holistic summer camp and healing space is designed to politicize, inspire, and build community for over 25 South Asian youth.
South Asian voices are so much more than the monolithic, privileged expressions of our identities that we often see depicted by those with power. Our South Asia is queer, diverse, of many colors, creeds, languages, and homes – and our spaces should reflect that.
Find out more information here.