Including Children in Caste Conversations

posted by Meera Sriram, April 27, 2017

"Children of color, like my own, don't ever see themselves in mainstream books, and I want to see them in the stories they read."

I talk about this on several platforms as a children's writer and a multicultural literacy advocate in the U.S, where I live, and gain goodwill. Not too long ago, only an awkward silence ensued. These days my news-feed on social media buzzes with debates on cultural stereotyping and misappropriation. What's wrong in asking where are you from? How to bring diversity to work spaces? People discuss these. With relative ease. And with children, in families and in classrooms.

Conversations in the US

My son's second grade started with a discussion on diverse families. Schools send flyers home about racially offensive Halloween costumes. Parents educate their kids on how to handle or react to racist behavior. Libraries are motivated to add books that include mirrors for mixed-race, refugee, and immigrant children. Yes, there's a long road ahead and it's complicated, but it finally feels like there's an ongoing conversation on racism. And every time I sense this, I feel optimistic and empowered. I feel a pulse for change.

Back Home in India

And then I draw a parallel to the scene in India, a country I still call home, and a place I love with all my heart. But also, a country divided by casteism, a traditional, social stratification. However, casteism, just like with race, discriminates. It is so deep-rooted that it is normalized in today's society. Sadly, every political party in India is backed by a regressive caste rhetoric. How then can change happen?

Caste Literacy

I believe the only way to fight it is through caste literacy - by educating our future citizens and leaders - by including children in conversations around casteism within our families, in classrooms, and on the street. Maybe we could begin by telling our kids that some of the entitlements we enjoy do stem from capitalizing on the discrimination. We could pause to point out what's most often subtle, yet discriminatory, in media. Dalits, for instance, are often victims of sexual, verbal, and physical assaults. Shouldn't we be exposing our children to the atrocities? Shouldn't we be talking about a Dalit Lives Matter, like a Black Lives Matter? Can we talk about Brahmin privilege, like we talk about White privilege?

No matter where in the world we are raising our kids, it is time we talked to them about how caste discriminates - about what's caste-offensive, about caste profiling, and caste stereotyping. It's important that we don't think of these as topics off-limit for children, and instead, believe in starting young, and empowering them with the awareness that'll eventually lead to change. Let the future generations claim that they were the ones that rose and fought the battle.

But let's first tell them that there's a battle that was never fought for thousands of years.

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