I think I found this after reading an email sent out on the ASATA listserv; it asked for participants for a survey on caste and Sikhism. Since Iâ€™m interested in both, I decided to take a quick look. The first notes wafted tentatively through my iBookâ€™s wee speakers and I smiled: Van Halen. I knew exactly what kind of video this would be. We used to make ones just like it for JSA‘s Fall and Spring “State”, usually to open the conference. Well, it was either that or we’d blare Public Enemy‘s “Fight the Power“…
After watching it, I was moved, because I felt like so much of it was applicable to all of us, not just Sikhs. Someone Malayalee needs to make one of these, stat, I muttered…and then I realized that they didnâ€™t. Maybe they should just watch this, I thought and thatâ€™s when I knew it belonged here, in a space where it would get the attention it rightly deserves.
Ravidasia // Khatri // Jatt // Tarkhan…The labels that divide us are endless. Caste, gender, class, and power tear apart our Qaum, our Gurdwaras, and our Pariwars. How do we overcome? How do we forge unity without silencing voices? [Jakara]
My closest friend in college was a Sikh girl from Fremont, who happened to be Tarkhan. My boyfriend from Freshman through Junior year was Jatt. So were all of his friends. They made fun of her when she wasn’t around and ignored her when she was. This baffled coconut-flavored me. “Why are you so mean to her?” I’d ask him, over and over. “She’s nice.”
“Because she’s…Tarkhan. They’re lower class. And so backwards– didn’t you say her parents tried to get her married when she was 17, that they didn’t even want to send her to college? Who the hell does that?”
“That’s not her fault, why are you taking it out on her?”
“Look, it’s a Sikh thing…it’s probably difficult to understand. Don’t you have a sorority thing to go to?”
I’m amazed at how often caste shows up on our comment threads, among second gen kids who should know better. Then I am humbled as I remember that I’m complicit in this too, when I tease my best friend about doing TamBrahm stuff or when I embroider stories from bygone UC Davis days with an extra adjective which probably isn’t necessary:
“Well a lot of students were from the Central Valley or Yuba City…so a good number of the desis I befriended were Jatt Sikh.”
It’s so insidious, the way this need to inform others of where we are in some dated hierarchy persists. Right now, we need to ask ourselves…why?