In WGBH’s exploration of “Caste in America,” we interviewed more than 30 people about their experiences and views of this hierarchical system. We wanted to know how caste affected them personally, their analyses of this ancient division and its impact on their lives in the United States. We spoke with Indians who did not know to what caste they belong. We interviewed others who identified as Brahmin, Kshatriya, Sudra, Vaishya and Dalit. Dalits, an outcaste group, are a minority among the nearly 3 million Indians in the U.S. and Canada. But even in the diaspora — away from the harsh realities that define everyday life for those formerly described as “untouchables” — the inherent bigotry of caste has followed. Other Indians have had entirely different experiences with caste. Several people we spoke with said they have never thought about or felt its effects. Here are a few of the voices of people we interviewed for our series.
Rakesh Pandey — Boston: Pandey is a lecturer on operations and technology management at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. He arrived in the U.S. more than three decades ago. He is a Brahmin who supports “reservations” (affirmative action) for Indians in India and is considering the impact of reservations on professional Indian migration to the U.S.
Jaspreet Mahal — Waltham: Mahal is a Sikh married to a Ph.D. student at the University of Massachusetts who is a Dalit. Both are followers of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the 20th Cdentury Dalit leader. Mahal is a researcher at Brandeis University and sits on a committee charged with creating by-laws to prohibit — for the first time — caste discrimination on a university campus.
Suhag Shukla — Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.: Shukla is executive director of the Hindu American Foundation. She was born into a family that would be described as Vaishya, married into a family that would be described as Brahmin, and identifies as Hindu. "I am against caste-based discrimination and caste hierarchies because both violate Hindu teachings,” she says.
Shilpa Srivastava — Burlington: Srivastava was born in the U.S. He grew up Hindu but today is a practicing Buddhist.
Varun Aggarwal — New Delhi: Aggarwal is a graduate of MIT and a member of a dominant caste. He runs a company called Aspiring Minds, which develops systems for determining merit rather than relying on more subjective means of measuring abilities. He attributes his own success to the example set by his father rather than caste privilege.
Rajiv and Mayuri Avacharmal — New Jersey: A married professional Dalit couple who arrived in the U.S. in 2016.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan — The Bay Area and New York City: Soundararajan is the co-founder and co-executive director of Equality Labs, a Dalit research organization examining caste bias in the U.S.
This article has been updated.