Jivana Heyman 0:00
Hey everyone, it's Jivana. I just want to come on for a moment and thank our sponsor offering tree. They're an all in one easy to use community back business that saves you time, energy and money as a yoga teacher. Offering tree allows you to create a website in less than 30 minutes. Plus you get a discount to accessible yoga. Just go to offering tree.com backslash accessible yoga to get your discount today. Okay, here's our episode.
Anjali Rao 0:31
Welcome to the love of yoga podcast. I'm your host Anjali Rao. This podcast explores the connections between the teachings of yoga for self and collective transformation. We dive into how spirituality and philosophy can ignite social change. I share conversations with folks who are on the frontlines of justice and laboratory movements, thought leaders and changemakers disruptors and healers. In honor of the Dalit History Month, we continue the discussions about the impact of the caste system in all the realms from the corporate world to education to yoga. Joining us in this important conversation is Prachi Patankar born and raised in rural India, was raised by a freedom fighter grandmother and parents deeply involved in anti caste feminist and peasant movements. Over two decades in New York City, she has been an activist, educator grantmaker writer involved in social movements which link the local and the global police brutality and war, migration and militarization, race and caste, women of color feminism and global gender justice. Through her work Prachi has been involved in innovative projects to link social justice movements between United States and the global south. Thank you so very much, Prachi, for joining us on The Love of Yoga Podcast.
Prachi Patankar 2:29
Thank you for having me. Thank you for having me.
Anjali Rao 2:44
Could you please share first about your own background growing up in rural India? And how does that inform your work and life now?
Prachi Patankar 2:53
Yeah, thank you so much for that question. Anjali. And, yeah, I mean, I think the lot of the work that I do today, and the approaches that I take, in my organizing, is informed by the fact that I grew up in rural India among peasant movements and anti caste movements, really informed by the philosophies of Ambedkar. And Dr. Ambedkar, and Mark Mfume. And, of course, you know, some of the leftist intellectuals and like Marx, and so I grew up among these movements. I also grew up in an area in Maharashtra in India, that had been a hotbed of strong resistance against movement against the British, and specifically, the area that I grew up in, and that my grandparents were involved in a movement called the parallel government, which is basically, you know, pretty self God route parallel government to build a, a united front against the British occupation, but at the same time understanding that we need to create and maintain our own governance systems that are coming from the approaches of anti caste women's liberation and progressive orientations. And so my grandfather was involved in it, he was underground activist at that time, there was a war against him. My grandmother was part of that struggle. And these founders were strongly influenced by feminists and because performance in the region it's been itself right so full a majority of a full Lane was not far from their shadow Mydas, who was a great kind of former, although a king in that area, but very strongly connected to Dr. Ambedkar was from the area that I grew up. And so this is what informed the movements around you know, the really the sense of time with the British to the time or when I was growing up in the 80s, really was about eating in the 90s. And 80s was about, you know, anti caste women's liberation approaches to fight the right for right to education to fight for land rights, for oppressed caste communities and women in general. And among the anti Castel feminist is where I grew up, we're fighting for a future without caste, while also fighting for access to land by also fighting for disrupting caste and gender based violence that took place in the land struggles that took place in the labor rights struggle. So, you know, that's where my earliest memories that were being part of these marches and being been part of these struggles in in the areas and really influenced by these anti caste ballot and oppressed caste feminists, including my own grandmother and my parents, of course. So, yeah, that is, you know, that is something that informs my work that is very intersectional and very, very anti caste.
Anjali Rao 6:01
That's wonderful to hear, I'm just getting goosebumps thinking about it, that you grew up in a place where people like Sam through my Puli, and, you know, Ambedkar, what I wanted to kind of, like draw the listeners attention to and if you could just share some more light on it is that there is often this gap in public understanding of the struggles of the caste oppressed, at the same time, why fighting the British, because that somewhat not even highlighted in the textbooks that we studied. I grew up in India, too. So the textbooks we studied, which we never really talked about it, and that's because of so many reasons, including the cooperation of the struggles of the caste movement, along with colonization. So could you please share a little bit about that?
Prachi Patankar 6:55
Yeah, I mean, I think what happens, you know, so, Mahatma Jyotiba, fully, you know, he was a social reformer, from many, many years ago. And he, you know, he was, he is sometimes known as the, you know, somebody who was for, you know, school education and for equality of education for women. And also somebody who faced in his wife's obviously, very fully will face a lot of problems, because they were they wanted to bring education, not just women, but to Dalit people. And so sometimes their work and even Dr. Ambedkar, his work is kind of put aside as only kind of worker on caste system. But the reality is also that Mahatma Jyotiba, fully wrote about the land system about land rights, right, how to how to actually have, you know, liberation around land justice and labor rights. He was writing about trade unions, many years ago. And he was also writing about and working on struggles of education and women's liberation and caste justice, and at the same time opposing and realizing that the struggle against British was, was contradictory, right, it was not going as long as the British were there that these struggles, were not going to necessarily be one. So he was also against the British, and, you know, in the struggle against occupation and colonialism. And same with Dr. Ambedkar. Right. He was, he was he's known as, of course, the architect of the, the Indian Indian constitution. But even in the in the left, and the kind of academic understanding of who Dr. Ambedkar was. He's the writer of the Constitution, and he's the lead scholar, but he also worked on labor rights, one of the one of those biggest contributions was around women's women's rights in the parliament and, and making sure that, you know, in Dhokla bills, he's gonna be applauded for very ferociously. So, he was about women's rights, he was about land rights, all of those struggles and data Ambedkar was very much at the forefront of not just kind of the struggles to fight that with it with the population, but also to theorize about it right and theories theorize about the fact that the land rights struggles and workers rights struggles are intertwined with caste and so and the like you said the reality is that you know, caste system is a one of the oldest social structures that is a part of Indian society from the first millennium BC and a lot of the kind of rhetoric can be from the more dominant caste or even Hindu nationalist is that the caste system is created by the British or was formulated by the British, right. But the but the opposite is true that the caste system existed a long time ago, and British actually just entrenched it further, and they they codified it in a way and they were with the dominant caste, the Brom the romantic romantic system to make sure that they were consolidating power with the the topmost category within the caste system, and so that they could maintain power. So, yeah, so that's, you know, one way to kind of look at how both the Dalit and anti caste scholars are not relegated to understanding the the fuller contributions to the liberation of India and relegated to only about caste nor caste system is understood in its fullest understanding of how it is really part and parcel of Indian society for a long time.
Anjali Rao 10:41
Yes, absolutely. Could you give us some examples of how it has been institutionalized? Because, what, and it continues to be institutionalized? And like you said, the British did not form the caste system, they institutionalized it, they embedded it further and made it a part of government in many ways. You know, so could you give us examples of how it has been institutionalized? Where do you see this, because it is so much of like, denial that it even exists? I remember growing up in India thinking it's, oh, it's bad, and it's over, but very much alive. So could you share why it's been institutionalized? Why there is so much denial?
Prachi Patankar 11:25
Well, I think, we have to go back to how the what what how the caste system was created, and and how it is maintained. Right, it was created by Brahmanism. You know, the first million milennium 1000s of years ago to you know, Brahmanism is a spiritual philosophy and ideology, which has really come to dominate what we know as Hinduism today. So in the caste system, as we know, Brahmins occupy the topmost caste hierarchy, and it's supposed to, by birthright, have performed the most intellectual, most pure, quote, unquote, most clean forms of labor. And the lowest category is supposed to be occupied by the former untouchables, the Dalit community. And they're supposed to do the most unclean, quote, unquote, most underpaid occupations. And so if you, you know, you're talking about growing up in rural India, rural India, you see this most starkly, and not to say that it's not there in urban areas, too. And we can talk about that, where I grew up, even today, when I go back home, to my town, my village. The town is divided geographically, by caste neighborhoods. So you they're named by caste neighborhoods, you're going to the Mahara and Hmong Gully, right, you're going to the Brahmin Gully, you're going to the suitability, the people who work with wood caste, you're going to the Ballygally, this is the place I live that I live in. So you, that's the people who make the work with oil. So these categories, that because they're cast based occupations, people lived in those caspase neighborhoods, and they still live to this day. The other way that it's institutionalized is that people still marry within the caste system. So, caste system is, is, you know, really cemented through these designated occupations and through marriage to endogamy. So most people, there are love marriages that happen, of course, today in India and many parts from that day in the diaspora, but even the love marriages are within the test, right. And so, in India, most of the marriage is still happening in in, within the caste system, because a lot of them are still arranged marriages. And so Brahmanism in some ways, has maintained this oppression of oppressed caste by controlling and limited remitting access to positions of power to, to livelihoods to love and marriage to through law land, right. So if you look at who who owns the land, who does not own the land, to this day, if you look at the in terms of you know, farmers, if you look at farmers struggles and all of those kinds of realm of struggles, the community is still you know, has a you know, what, some of the lowest ownership of land and so when you're fighting for struggles, what are you fighting for? Right, so the community is fighting for their dignity, their their need for a getting fair wages. And a lot of times even gender based violence and control over the delay community. When it happens to about in terms of land, it's over, over control over the women that like women in in the in other communities because that is through through the woman's bodies, that is how dominant castes are controlling and violating control and keeping the power. And so when these if historically, the designated occupations are hierarchical, years after to this day, if you even in urban areas, if you look at who's who's having jobs around manual scavenging, who's having the lowest paid jobs unnecessarily, certain kind of wage labor, there are still people from the oppressed castes. So you don't the caste system is is. So, I want to say brilliantly oppressive, that it continues to maintain that way and it kind of conforms to the modern day capitalist order, right. So it is people still working within those kinds of jobs. So when because, you know, caste caste system was turned in, in terms of some of these reservations have come in India, they have given certain opportunities for delegates and other oppressed class communities. There are some people who have been able to get out of those caspase occupations, especially delegates and come to different kinds of jobs, when those communities come to those into those occupations that are not meant for them, right, that are that they're, they're not entitled to dominance, dominant caste communities feel very entitled to those to those occupations. And then that's how discrimination happens. That's how oppression happens. Because they don't feel like they have control over what is entitled to them anymore. And so institutionalization happens through societal control. And then institutional institutionalization of caste discrimination happens also through the ways that, you know, who's actually controlling systems of governance, who's controlling systems of media who's controlling the media narratives, and those are occupied by dominant castes. Right?
Anjali Rao 16:56
That's absolutely, thank you for sharing that. And what about the narrative that, you know, once you move away from India, caste no longer exists? Or it's better here in the United States? Or the quote unquote, the West? You're Canada, you know, what about the narrative that? Oh, I'm sure you heard that. I've heard that. Can you share some light about that? Does cost exists? I know it does. But well, how would you how would you respond to that?
Prachi Patankar 17:25
Yeah, I mean, first, I would say if it exists to such a degree today, where we see we're seeing overt caste based violence happening in India, we've been seeing over it caste and gender based violence happening in India. In India, we're seeing overt impunity, and people, you know, with the hip thrusts case, recently, people getting away with, you know, rape and murder of the like the like women, you know, knowing knowingly with multiple cases and open evidence against them, when you see that that is what exists today. And in this time, people are coming to the United States as immigrants, how could they leave those prejudices, it's impossible to imagine that people would suddenly come to a different place and leave all of those prejudices behind that is just not possible. So, you know, the fact is that in the United States, it up to this day, the majority of the people who have been able to have had the privilege to come to this country have been dominant caste Indians. And so especially those dominant caste Indians, like I said, come to the United States entitled to the jobs that they feel that are actually by merit and by birth, or there's, so they're coming into jobs. We're not all not all of them. There's a lot of people who are in working class jobs, of course, but many Indian upper caste privileged communities are coming in to jobs, that are tech jobs, they're coming into academia, they're coming into finance sector, and they're there they feel entitled so when more and more the communities more and more oppressed caste communities are coming because of what Dr. Ambedkar and other Delage movement aware movements were able to achieve through the reservation system and through, you know, affirmative action, like programs, when people are having those opportunities from the delight and oppressed class communities, and they're able to come and work in the tech sectors. They're facing their Indian counterparts who are from dominant caste, and they're saying, you know, they're they're facing discrimination, they're facing prejudices. They're coming into Indian communities, they're already formed their cultural communities through through really caste based systems, right. So there there are people who are already in you know, places like New Jersey and places in the suburbs where they're coming into places where or Indian communities already having these cultural groups and most of them are, you know, dominant castes and within the cult Casco cultural groups, they're finding each other jobs in certain sectors. And when the communities come, they like how you cannot get the job, I'm reserving this for my own caste, they won't overtly say that, but that is the understood thing. And so, it is very, it to the you American eyes, it can be very invisible, but to people who are actually oppressed caste, these kinds of things can be seen. And then of course, you know, there are cases like the, the temple example, right in the Baptist Temple, where that light and divisive workers were brought in for labor trafficking, and servitude and exploitation and paid $1 a day. And that's the most overt form of caste based aggravated discrimination and exploitation. So it happens in various ways in the US still, UPS.
Anjali Rao 21:00
Yes. And thank you for sharing all those examples.
Jivana Heyman 21:05
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Anjali Rao 22:05
Could you share something about how white supremacy intersects with caste supremacy here in the United States?
Prachi Patankar 22:14
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think one of the ways that, you know, they I see it intersecting is that white supremacy, of course, believes in the supremacy of white people. And so everybody else is, you know, not supposed to be in the in the powerful and in the category that whites are. But within white supremacy, you cannot understand why white supremacy without understanding anti blackness, right without understanding the history of enslavement and the history of genocide in this country. So even within the idea of white supremacy, there are, you know, ways that not all people of color face the same kind of discrimination or same kind of exploitation and oppression. So there is a in some ways, and black people face the most exploitation and discrimination, because of the way the history of slavery and history of white supremacy in the United States. Indian Americans and South Asian Americans have come to the United States in the in the time of post Civil Rights Movement, when lot of the struggle for civil rights for racial justice had been together one by the anti racist communities of white, white, anti racist communities and with the leadership of black communities, right. So these struggles in the post Civil Rights Movement, were won by the Civil Rights Movement and Indian American community mostly came after that time. And so they have been an incumbent has been reaping the benefits of the racial justice movement for a long time. So that's not acknowledged. Right. So, of course, you know, Indian communities, certain Asian communities face racism, face the brunt of the white supremacy in that way. But we have to also understand that we all Indian American community also has a certain privilege where they come into the society, also, already being privileged from the Muslim Muslim majority being a dominant caste, and they already come privileged because black community that is still at the bottom in terms of how white supremacy looks at, you know, oppression in the in the United States. Who does white supremacists hate most, it is black communities. Right. And so, the way I look at it also is that, you know, it becomes really difficult when Hindu nationalists in the United States oppose, you know, strong our struggles and diecast Trump was to ensure there is protections for caste discrimination that we tried to include those in, you've seen this in the case of Seattle, you've seen this in other places where you do nationalist organizations or opposing struggles by oppressed caste communities to make sure their protections, right. And it becomes really hard because they are claiming that there is Hindu phobia. And they're claiming that in the phobia, because they're using the fact that there's white supremacy in the United States, right. And so for even white liberals, it becomes really difficult to oppose Hindu nationalists because they don't know what to do. They're, they're in a confused state, right? They're saying, of course, there's there is racism against Hindus, when it's actually raising them against Indians. Right? It's not because necessarily, they're Hindus. And it is it is really hard to unite people. So in that, in that sense, it becomes very difficult, but the reality is that, you know, a lot of Hindu nationalists are saying that, calling out caste discrimination and making sure there's class protection is Hindu phobia. But that's simply not true. Right, that calling for majority of the like, communities were still Hindu, asking for protection from within the within the community cannot cannot possibly be in the phobia. It just said it's like, you know, saying that the need for race, racial justice. Racial Justice struggles is not necessarily anti white. It's, it's, it's against white supremacy, it's against racial discrimination.
Anjali Rao 26:35
Right. I want to like draw the attention of the listeners as to what you said about you know, ethno nationalism that is obviously has been in the on the rise and continues to rise in, in India and, and the diaspora to in terms of, you know, the rise of an establishment of the BJP as, as one of the most strongly, almost like a uni part one party system in India, I won't go into all the details there because of time here, but in terms of how we can as yoga practitioners, because yoga has been weaponized by the the Ethno nationalist movement in India. And I want to like, ask your opinion on how we can practice yoga a as people who are discerning about who how yoga has been weaponized and be how Yoga itself, the lot of the practices and the teachings are embedded within the caste system. So any any opinion or any sharing on that.
Prachi Patankar 27:50
Yeah, I mean, I think the way that yoga has been weaponized, I think, many years ago, there was a campaign take back yoga right at the Hindu America Foundation, which is very much connected to a certain Hindu nationalist ideology and not overtly. So. So, you know, the claiming that it yoga is actually part of Hinduism. So, you really do understand that you have to go back to what is Hinduism, right, what is Hinduism? Hinduism, right is a construction is a construct developed in 19th century right it is made out of incomplete element, incompatible elements there Brahmanism, bhakti, tradition, village gods and goddesses. This is what makes up what Hinduism today in the dominant form is Brahmanism. Right? So the real enemy, that real struggle is against Brahmanism not necessarily in some ways Hinduism, because Hinduism is a constructed form. And so then saying that this is Hindu, then what are you actually saying? Is it is a yoga dramatic? Is that what you're saying? Are you saying you're is yoga part of the bhakti tradition? You know, we would have to go back and question that itself. And then I think the reality I think you probably know, as much as I do, and more because you are a practitioner, more of a practitioner of yoga, and you know, understand the history even better, but Yoga is not it's not a monolith, right? It is it has gone through, and there are some traditions and breathing and breath. There's, you know, there's the forms that are physical that are actually from some Nordic traditions, you know, so it's a conglomeration and putting together various forms that you know, make yoga today and even now, yoga still being developed into various different Vikram yoga and, you know, all these different forums, people are still creating it and changing it and shuffling it and all of that and so, this thing of saying that and this this is the That's the reason I also wrote the article is that I think some for some people and even in a progressive South Asian community, we're also feeling that yoga is being appropriated. And yoga is being that and so we have to really be careful when you're making the argument of appropriation when yoga has already been changed and appropriated and brought and brought together from various different kinds of forums. And so, yeah, I think what we have to understand is that if there you know, what, what part of yoga that we, you know, we want to put forward and what you know, how that actually is, a liberatory can be liberatory, and healing and caring thing for the bodies and how it can be used for social justice. And, and care for people rather than something that is an oppressive, feels like an oppressive form. And so what part of yoga, and is that and we need to discard those parts that are that are oppressive, that are not caring, that are not healing for communities, and I think there, you've probably can talk about more of those that are those forms, I think, that you know, we have to be very, very, very careful when talking about appropriation, we have to be character very careful in thinking of talking about what is Hindu and what is not Hindu, and we have to be very careful how certain forms are, that are kind of physical, somatic extra exercises that are used for for health and mental health and body purposes, that can be truly healing for all people, right. And what that means is truly healing for all people. That means you have to consider how historically these things have affected oppressed caste communities and their communities. And if there are forms that you know, and, and parts of yoga that are oppressive, and those have to be discarded.
Anjali Rao 31:57
They have to first first of all be acknowledged. So I think we are we are just parsing how caste has been so influential and forming the teachings who gets to teach who gets to be a student, you know, historically and in the modern in the modern yoga spaces. So thank you for bringing that up. I think what we are looking at, as yoga practitioners who are interested in these conversations, at least I am, is to hold the tension that yes, there is white supremacy and cultural appropriation happening in your spaces where there is saltation erasure, and that the discussed oppression both and we have to create spaces where we can have those conversations so that we can build spaces of care, like you said, so appreciate you sharing that Prachi. I know that we've been having a you know, in organizations like equality labs, and I've had my first conversation with 10 Murray in this on this podcast. So people are and you are written like articles about how caste discrimination is being addressed. You're in the diaspora. So first, I have to offer my own congratulations because I think having those victories and acknowledgement, I'm sure I can understand how how healing and you know, how important that is in the movement? How can we as people and I have a certain amount of cast privilege? How can we stay in the conversation? How can we be in solidarity with with people like you who are in the frontlines of this movement?
Prachi Patankar 33:37
Yeah, thank you for you know, bringing this up, because, you know, part of this conversation is about how how we have we can be you know, included and participate in the movements to abolish caste wherever it exists. So, it we know now with the clearly that it exists in the United States, and, you know, there are organizations like equality labs or organizations like Ambedkar international mission, there's organizations like America International Center, there's organizations like Ambedkar skin study circle, there's organizations like that like solidarity center. So, these all of these organizations are the breadth of what what makes the Dalit rights groups in this country. So, we have to understand that you know, also as people who are part of this wanting to kind of achieve caste abolition and be part of anti caste movements, you have to understand the breadth of who makes the communities who make the built organizations and support all of them. The other thing we have to understand is that you know, in a place like Seattle, the struggle was achieved because of the unity of the all the elite organization because that there were multicast group of aura leaders and organization As president in the struggle, there was multi faith leaders, Muslim communities and other communities in Seattle there joined the coalition. So the coalition of Indian Americans in Seattle and other groups that were part of the coalition in Seattle, that's what they, you know, with Travis Allen to the city council, I remember, they attributed the fact that the struggle one was because of the multicast, multi ethnic, multi, religious, multi faith and multinational kind of characteristic of that coalition. And so what I'm trying to say is that if you if one has one wants to see themselves in unity and Ally ship with Cass, abolition and Castro, listen, the United States, you have to be part of those coalition, you have to join those struggles and understand what is what role you are going to play, whether you're in academia and and there's a lot of South Asians in academia, if you're a South Asian and academia, what is what role are you going to play to make sure not only system systematically, or systemically, you're going to bring caste discrimination protections in the in the academic institutions? But also, what role are you going to play to support more and more that students that are coming into academia and don't have the support system and don't have the safety nets that a lot of South Asians have in the United States? How are you going to what role are you going to play to ensure that you're supporting their their their struggle and their their uplift, like upliftment to what so that they also can grow? Right? What role are you going to play in tech industries? Where there are a lot of South Asians? When there's another South Asian or Indian? Who was upper caste that is clearly discriminating another person? What role will you play as a, as an ally? Who is a delegate? Who's the upper caste ally? So that's the that's the question that we have to ask ourselves as, as we are supporting the struggles, but not to be passive kind of observers of the struggles. But understand what is it that you can do from wherever you are, while you're supporting the lead organizing, and while you support supporting oppressed cash or lead organizing in the United States,
Anjali Rao 37:12
That's, that's exactly what I was hoping that we bring into these conversations is how we can be an active active ally ship and solidarity with the cast abolishing movement. Because oftentimes, what happens is, you know, we have these conversations when something happens, and then we kind of leave it and then our attention gets diverted or whatever. So I want to continue to draw attention. So I so appreciate you coming on the podcast and talking about that. And I always ask this of all my guests, and especially you, who are who are, who's doing the frontline work of so many, so many things, so many very critical and often heartbreaking movements, how do you take care of yourself? What are your non negotiables of self care?
Prachi Patankar 38:02
That's a good question. I, you know, I live in an area that has, you know, some hiking and waterfalls, you know, trails and, you know, I try to, you know, be in the nature and take care of myself and make sure that my body and my mind is well well cared for by myself and, you know, also friendships and community right, I think a lot of a lot of what sustains us and makes us thrive, at least for myself and get what gives me joy is, is having a loving and community and friendships along with the kind of my own self care, those are kind of those are connected. And, you know, my kiddo, my, I have a six year old, and my partner, they give me joy, and they you know, that having them in my life and having a young person, you know, you know, being being young and being curious about the world and really understanding how, in most simplest simple sway, fairness, and how and asking those questions in with curiosity, those those things really gave me joy.
Anjali Rao 39:13
Well, thank you for sharing that. And I so appreciate you for having this conversation with me. And I hope to continue to see your work being highlighted and hope to stay in touch with you with through through your journey. Thank you so much, Traci.
Prachi Patankar 39:29
Thank you so much for having me and keep up the good work. Appreciate it.
Anjali Rao 39:33
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