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Caste in the USA, Episode 7: Why the Savarna controlling of public policy normalises casteism, foils diversity – World News , Firstpost

Caste in the USA, Episode 7: Why the Savarna controlling of public policy normalises casteism, foils diversity

‘Caste In The USA’ is a podcast series examining the pervasiveness of caste discrimination among Indians in the US, hosted by Equality Labs’ Thenmozhi Soundararajan. This is Episode 7.

Editor’s note: Firstpost is holding a series of conversations with Indians in the US, across its campuses, offices and households, to understand how caste discrimination pervades the community just as much as it does back home in India. Hosted by Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Dalit rights activist, artist, technologist and executive director of Equality Labs, the podcast cracks taboos about caste among Indians in the US. Listen to more episodes here.


In Episode 7: 

“It needs to be understood that public policy, civil society, or international affairs, development sector, and international non-governmental agencies, this whole sector as such represents the pinnacle of privilege. It is actually a mirror of how caste works. It’s no surprise that when I am here in an Ivy League university, who my classmates are. There are smart people, passionate people but for me, this is beyond passion. It’s personal for us because the work we do as policymakers will impact my siblings, my cousins, or people I know personally, that is why policy for me is very personal. In my experience in this field, folks will talk about caste, like I have heard from people in my program. They would talk about caste, but they wouldn’t talk about caste to me directly that happens across. In mainstream public policy when they talk about India, all the work is about poor people, the marginalised, the discriminated, the unprivileged, but then nobody goes beyond and asks the question — who are these people you are talking about? Like in the American context, when we talk about urban policy or health policy, if you don’t factor race as a dimension your policy will be limited, your policy will be unidimensional. Likewise, when you think about policy in terms of India, when you don’t factor in caste it will be limited.

The challenge of having only upper caste folks having the hegemony or being in leadership of the sector is that these folks would straight up come to me and say, “My grandfather allowed the untouchables in my village to use their tank to drink water.” That would be one end of the spectrum, and the other one is people coming and saying, “you know, we should talk more about caste”, or “folks who were against reservation till a year back and I have now read ‘Annihilation of Caste’ and now they say Jai Bhim and we have to accept them as our comrades.”

This is an excerpt from today’s episode, where we are in conversation with Benson Neethipudi, a student in Economic and Political Development at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Columbia University. He is also the current president of the SIPA Student Association. Benson grew up in Andhra Pradesh and is an anti-caste intellectual.

In the seventh episode of Caste in the USA, Benson shares his experiences with host Thenmozhi Soundararajan (@dalitdiva), of navigating the ignorance and disregard that Indian policy makers display routinely, on the central question of caste.


Listen to Caste in the USA, Episode 7 here:


Read the complete transcript for Episode 7:

Thenmozhi Soundararajan: Jai Bhim and Jai Savitri, everyone. I am Thenmozhi Soundararajan, and this is the podcast Caste in the USA with Firstpost. Today’s episode is an exploration of caste and policy, joining us is Benson Neethipudi of Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. He is a long time thinker about caste, public policy and development and we are so excited to have him join us. Welcome, Benson.

Benson Neethipudi: Jai Bhim, friends.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan: So Benson, I wanted to start off with an initial question about policy. You are one of the few Dalits, who is publicly out in this field and a lot of Savarnas who end up being Indian leaders of civil society, multinationals or governments get training in American institutions like Columbia. Can you share with our listeners what is it like to be inside one of these institutions, and how prevalent is caste?

Benson Neethipudi: To begin with, we need to set the framework; it needs to be understood that public policy, civil society, or international affairs, development sector, and international non-governmental agencies, this whole sector as such represents the pinnacle of privilege. It is actually a mirror of how caste works, the sense who gets to be in these spaces? At least when we talk about STEM, IT industry or the corporate industry there is an opportunity to make wealth, and everybody aspires to be in these spaces. But when you look at public policy, there is not a lot of wealth creation but there is a lot of intellectual capital like hegemony on knowledge production and how you influence policy and who gets to be in these places is based on where your position in society is. When I was growing up, the only understanding of public policy was people who do, in very laymen terms, good for other people. These used to be really wealthy people, who had their own family foundations who would come and give away prizes in schools to poor children. When you look at who these people are it is very easy to identify that they are upper-caste people who get to be in these places by virtue of their previous wealth.

It’s no surprise that when I am here at an Ivy League university who my classmates are. It’s a similar reflection. There are smart people, passionate people but for me, this is beyond passion. It’s personal for us because the work we do as policymakers will impact my siblings, my cousins, or people I know personally. That is why policy for me is very personal. In my experience in this field, folks will talk about caste, like I have heard from people in my program they would talk about caste, but they wouldn’t talk about caste to me directly. That happens across in mainstream public policy. When they talk about India all the talk is about poor people, the marginalised, the discriminated, the unprivileged, but then nobody goes beyond and asks the question — who are these people you are talking about? Like in the American context when we talk about urban policy or health policy if you don’t factor race as a dimension, your policy will be limited, your policy will be unidimensional. Likewise when you think about policy in terms of India when don’t factor in caste it will be limited.

So that is the challenge of having only upper-caste folks having hegemony or being in leadership of the sector. Like you know, in my experience, there are folks who would straight up come to me and say, “My grandfather allowed the untouchables in my village to use their tank to drink water”. So that would be one end of the spectrum and the other one is people coming and saying, “you know, we should talk more about caste”, or “folks who were against reservation till a year back and have now read Annihilation of Caste and now they say Jai Bhim and we have to accept them as our comrades.” So that is a spectrum of folks you meet in this sector. Their intention might be good but their learnings, their lived experiences are very unidimensional so it might be innocent but the impact of all of this is just as harmful.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan: Can you describe one instance of casteism that really challenged you?

Benson Neethipudi: The thing is as I mentioned, the folks who come into this space are educated in the West, and also they know that caste exists. While they may not speak about it, they also know political correctness. So often, what happens is in this space, there are constant micro-aggressions, that is how caste can manifest. It happens without even speaking, this is their refined casteism where you can see it. And of course in the work that you do and the policy that you implement have direct implications, but on a day-to-day basis, there is a lot of unspoken manners in which caste manifests itself.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan: Can you give us an example of those unspoken manners that you can share with our audience because my feeling is that we are talking with people, who don’t even know they are being casteist because it is such a part of their behavioural repertoire, right? So is there a specific detail that you can think that can help paint that picture for our audience?

Benson Neethipudi: Of course. I wanted to give this premise but there are a couple of incidents. This is like me being a policy person and putting the non-disclosure policy, and not making it about one person. If I think of a particular incident, I would say I remember years ago, I was at an educational conference, which had the who’s-who of the educational policy space — former bureaucrats, former educational secretary in the philanthropy space — everybody was there. It was very engaging and this is a group of folks who really want to influence the way Indian education reaches out to students in this space.

In one of the sessions, one of the speakers was a very well-known figure in the educational space. They were talking about their engagement with the government and they mentioned in passing — as part of the conversations but like talking about — how some of the government bureaucrats are so fantastic and they mentioned one of the secretaries for education who is a top bureaucrat for education in India. They were mentioning how they were so organised and so perfect just like the Brahmin they were. The entire room just nodded and they smiled. Nobody found that upsetting and I was like is this okay or is this not okay. The speaker, in their framework of the conversation, the bureaucrat was this very organised, well-meaning and perfect person because they were Brahmin, while what they said was just a footnote in the conversation in the way they were explaining it — but it shows how caste is normalised and when you are not from that space you think like, ‘Okay, I am not a Brahmin. So would they associate what they think of my caste with my characteristics or nature of work or output I put out?’ These kinds of incidents trigger a lot of introspection and you ask these tougher questions.

And even before that, I remember I went to an event in Delhi, where there were a few big named donors of an organisation where I was speaking about the work I did and we spoke about how I told my story and how I ended up being at that place or my interactions with caste and how I see it. And everything I said was from a professional and policy perspective. It was good enough; in the audience, there was the then ambassador of America to India and they were also the key speaker. After I was done, they spoke and gave a shout out to me and said thank you for talking about your journey and so on. Later, in the dinner section, one of the donors, a big named donor who was there, came up to me and they said do not use the word Dalit. They just said that in my ear and walked away.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan: Unbelievable, that’s terrible Benson, what did you do?

Benson Neethipudi: I was startled. There was no context. They appreciated me, they patted my back and appreciated what I did but they said do not use the word Dalit and they left. So, when we talk about intersectionality…or like today we are talking about intersectionality in our work and justice in development, socio-economic justice, and what is the path forward — but if you are not even willing to acknowledge…like in India, caste is one of the central reasons for inter-generational poverty. Like, you are a big donor, you work in the development sector and you are willing to put your money, you don’t want to acknowledge that caste plays a central role in how poverty functions in India. Then where is that intersectionality?

Thenmozhi Soundararajan: I think that’s a very important point to bring up because again, what I think is really critical and is a theme that keeps coming up across all of our episodes, is that the discussion of caste is almost always relegated when dominant caste people are in charge of the conversation to the consequence of caste. So, we are going to deal with constant under-development of marginalised communities and then there are all these studies about how these communities are struggling and what are some of the internal deficiencies. But there is never that same aggressive lens to the dominant caste networks that actually benefit from our chronic un-development, and that there could be many positive policy visions that address people of caste privilege as opposed to simply looking as if caste discrimination or constant marginalisation on the basis of caste has no point of origin, has no people that benefit, but there is simply always going to be hundreds of millions of people that are impacted by the violence, atrocity and systemic exclusion.

And I think that’s why, Benson, it is so important to hear some of your insights about how closed these policy spaces are, because incubators like the Columbia SICO school or Harvard Kennedy school — they have these bright and shiny Savarnas that are set up to be the next administrators, grant officers and people who represent India at the UN level. These are all people who have no lived experience of hundreds of millions of people who they are supposed to represent, and even worse, they don’t know their own internal biases. And that’s why I think it is important to think about how you, and some of your other colleagues, the new generation of Dalits in this realm, are changing the game and thinking about how things can be done differently?

Caste in the USA Episode 7 Why the Savarna controlling of public policy normalises casteism foils diversity

Benson Neethipudi: I will give you a few examples of how I think about policy in terms of caste and caste marginalisation. Recently, India’s national education policy came into effect, and there was a lot of conversation around it. But just before, through a prominent Indian author, an eminent thinker who also happens to be a Harvard graduate and former CEO, they had an analysis piece talking about the need to privatise education. And one of the key premises for their arguments was that 47 percent of India’s children are in private schools so this translates to roughly about 120 million students, and that makes India the third-largest private school systems in the world.

Again, in India, when you talk about private schools, you think about — is it really private? Is government-aided private? There are so many questions, but even without going into minutiae, taking it on face value, when you say 47 percent of Indian children are in private schools, and that is how a policy is being explained, what you are not talking about is that 53 percent of remaining Indian students still go to public schools. So that is the kind of paradigm shift we need to think through.

When you see that 53 percent of children are still going to public schools, we need to think who is this 53 percent. I remember doing an after-school intervention in a government school in rural Andhra Pradesh, and again, this is just one example — I cannot explain it with statistical significance. We were doing this after school intervention program for tenth-grade students in a government school. There were 26 students out of which 12 were SC, which is scheduled castes, the legal classification for Dalits, and another 12 were BC or OBC, which translates to backward castes, and only two students were OC, which is a term used for upper-caste. Look at public schools. That is the reflection of the reality of schools. So today, if you want to push for private education — and again there is a lot that is good in private education…not denying that, and there are problems with public education — you need to understand who is accessing these spaces.

Forty-seven percent of Indian students are going to private schools. So we need to work on it — that is great. But what about the remaining 53 percent? Who are these 53 percent and how will they be impacted? In the same school where I did the after-school intervention program, one of the teachers was joking in Telugu, saying ‘auka plate, auka slate’, which means students come to school with a plate and a slate, which means most of them come to school because of the midday-meal program. As a policy person, when you think of it you have to ask yourself, ‘Okay, we have to focus on private education because learning outcomes are of benefit and public schools are failing, but we are not doing the work to know why public schools are failing.’ Those who are going to these public schools, you are not exploring the reasons why they are going there. That is the kind of work that needs to be done going forward.

Even today, after the NEP came up folks, most of the debates were like the policy recommends that the primary education be in the mother-tongue and actually now that I am in this policy space, and I do a lot of this reading, particularly education policy. Yes, there is evidence that when you learn in your mother-tongue, you learn better, but that works well in a framework where learning is merely an intellectual pursuit or academic endeavour But for the vast majority of people, Dalits, Adivasis and Bahujans like the lower-caste people in India, education is not just an academic endeavour — it is the driver for social mobility. We are trying to use this to get out of the rut that we are always stuck in. So learning in your mother tongue has an advantage but do we have an economy that would allow those who study in their mother tongue to have jobs or future employment.

If you have the wealth, which in India’s context happens to be divided disproportionately between the upper castes, then you can engage in private education, English education or other languages that will help you get into these positions of power, jobs in the future. But what about the other people, the vast majority who still use public education and have no access to English, and the economy which is tied to that language. It is not that learning the mother-tongue is not a challenge, but what is the outcome, is there are job opportunities waiting for me. Can I be an IT engineer who works predominantly in a Telugu environment? So these are the questions we need to ask and as a policy person, these are the questions that I would like to see explored further and build research on, because there is research to show 47 percent of children go to private schools, but when are we going to research that speaks to the remaining 53 percent.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan: And Benson, that touches upon this other core point which is that we need to be designing programs for the most vulnerable by people who are from those communities. Because at a core level, everything you talked about, was very true for my dad’s story. His mother put her five children through school and one of the reasons for that was they could guarantee them a meal when she and her husband couldn’t afford a meal for them. And they all excelled despite the circumstances that happened, but the idea that when you have so many children from caste-oppressed backgrounds learning in their mother-tongue, and if they are able to get through higher education through reservation, they are having to be in some of the most competitive environments and also learning English at the same time in very high competencies.

So, there is not even a process of equity that reservation as a structure creates and one of the things that I always think about with policy conversation is that there is a professor in the United States called Lani Gonier, who did a lot of work in terms of equity and education and civil rights law, and she was one of the thinkers that I looked to when I was talking to folks about affirmative action in the United States. There’s one thing that they said — there were some programs in affirmative action that focus only on access, but what we really need to think about is what success looks like. Getting people into the door is only half of the problem there is. All other structural equity things that you really need to be around that can include language classes, coaching, support for trauma, particularly if you have people coming in from atrocity-prone areas.

For example, my dad went to school with grandsons of Goundars who tortured the members of his village and he had to keep his mouth utterly shut. He couldn’t speak about the violence, but imagine having to sit next to that person or seeing them across the mess and you can’t say a word because these people can then immediately cut you out of the cycle of your career, because what you said is absolutely correct, which is that it is not purely an exercise in building our brains. All of our students who go to school are desperately there to pull themselves out of poverty and to make a generational change for their family line. So that kind of discourse in educational policy is never really talked about when you are in dominant caste policy spaces and these are the kinds of pains and insights that I see in many Dalit policy people holding their in hearts. But we have to basically create a policy on this site, we have to work around dominant-caste grant-officers or bureaucrats who say Jai Bhim to your face but don’t have the single bit of the knowledge they need to do to administer for millions of people that are vulnerable to their whims really, and that really goes to the structural power of caste in this space, while caste is not mentioned explicitly in policies — it is the defining code of the people in power in all of these spaces, and why can’t look at caste diversity and policy as simply a thing of just, ‘Oh yeah, let’s just hire this one Dalit person’. You can’t hire a Dalit staff member into a casteist environment and not set them up to fail. And that’s why Benson, I am just wondering, if you can speak to what is the visionary option right now, and how do you stay resilient in this moment?

Benson Neethipudi: As I said, I would like to continue doing work that changes this paradigm, and how we understand policy. The outcomes are important but what are the societal structures we are pushing these outcomes into? These are the questions we need to ask and that is something I want to do or I want my colleagues — Dalit, Adivasi, Bahujan and even Savarnas, well-meaning Savarnas who want to do all this change. I want them to think in this dimension, instead of invisibilising caste and talking in terms of marginalised people.

According to a 2016 World Bank poverty profile of India, 40 percent of scheduled tribes are poor and 30 percent of scheduled castes are below the poverty line, and 20 percent of OBCs are below poverty line and only 12 percent of others fall under that definition. So these are the things that we need to keep in mind when we make our policies because the policies even by well-meaning folks, when they put out policies there, are recommendations in a vacuum. But society does not work in a vacuum. Society does not operate in a single dimension or policy experiments or randomised control runs; they do not always take all these social factors into consideration.

So your policy, even when it sounds great, the outcomes might not be the same or even the outcomes you envision might not be the outcomes most vulnerable groups want. As for how we stay resilient, for me I always think about, you know, what is the underpinning for all this struggle we are having or what are we trying to fight; that is something very important. For me, when I think of that the term that I think is dignity and a good example that I can think of is my father’s village, who is from the Godavari delta basin in Andhra Pradesh, and even today in most of the villages in that area, they are neatly segregated.

There will be Ambedkar’s statue after which it is the Dalit colonies it used to be called as Mallapali, Malagudum — by the name of the caste — but now in terms of being a little more dignified, they call them Ambedkar colonies and the upper castes live on the other side of the village even today. I remember when they were reconstructing a church in the village, and they wanted to include a community centre. Being a policy person, I said why do you want them to waste money on a community centre? Why don’t you ask them to invest money in building a school or a primary health care centre? And my father immediately responded that in that village, when Dalits get married, everybody sits on the road, they sweep the road and the children sit on the road and that is where the food is served. There is a shelter where they put all the buffalos; the buffaloes are sent out and they clean the shelter and that’s where the adults sit and eat. And he was like my people should not be sitting on the road and dust should not be falling in their food on such a special day. For him, it was that sense of dignity — and that is the reason why while I was envisioning that we need a school, he envisioned that we need a community centre. So, I always think about what are the underpinnings of the things we are fighting for and dignity always stands out. This whole desire to have a decent, dignified life is what all these challenges are and how do we get there? We have to be consistent in our approach and think about incremental change. We have to do all strategies. Yes, we want a revolutionary change, but in the current system it may or may not happen, so we will have to look for incremental changes as well.

You have to constantly talk about these issues and such consistency will have consequences. You might lose friends and you might lose people around you. This happens to me all the time when I ask even my peers in the diaspora, even my peers in Columbia. When I ask them the tough questions, they don’t want to answer. They are willing to talk about caste from a distance as something that is happening everywhere but they are not participants in it, in upholding that structure. When you are constantly talking about caste and myriad small ways in which it plays out, then there will be consequences but consistency is important.

This is something I have learnt from my own parents, my mom used to work in this place called Paderu which is a tribal hamlet. It is now a bigger place but it was a small town in the hills of Andra Pradesh, and she worked for many years there, and then she came back and I used to visit her. I remember talking to this Adivasi older woman and asking her, “Amma, they are talking about development. What is it that you want to give your land and think about development?” And this older Adivasi lady told me something that made me think a lot; she said, “Development that you are asking is because you folks don’t know how to live your lives and have opportunities. I can live in this land, I can farm this land, I can live here but just because you people in the cities who are wealthy, it is not sufficient for you, so now you want our land.” So that is why I always think about how we are thinking about development, and how can we consistently think about development. And what is the ecosystem or ripple effect of the policies we are thinking about? And those thoughts keep me resilient.

Lastly, I am always connected to what my background is, where I come from. Actually, I have no option but to be connected. My mother is a doctor but her brother is a truck driver, her younger brother is a bus driver, I have aunts and uncles who have worked as construction labour, I have aunts who have worked as house helps, I have my own cousins who work as plumbers, fitters, carpenters, and here I am in an Ivy League so the social bubbles I exist in here and the social bubbles I have in my family — and I go between them. It is like they never come close and my challenge is always how do I bring these social bubbles closer.

Maari: Thank you so much, Benson, I think it was great to learn from you all of that kind of, not just policy points, but personal stories. And I really want to hold up your thoughts about the requirement for dignity and what I am hearing from you is that what needs to be built in policy considerations is not just vague ideas of upliftment from poverty, but really an honest assessment about realities of caste society and policies that can provide people with dignity. So, as we pursue this kind of policy with dignity, what do you think schools in America are responsible for putting out many of these policy people, what can they do to better support students from caste-oppressed backgrounds and also have a more inclusive and real vision of South Asian ideas of development?

Benson Neethipudi: When I think of SIIPA, it was a running joke. For example, all the politics and protests going on in the US — the George Floyd protests, the Black Lives Matter movement — at SIIPA we had an internal audit of how we can diversify the school. For example, all these public spaces and even these top universities, they brand themselves like very international schools and have like 60 percent international, different languages on their website, or in their marketing material and it is true but international does not translate to diversity. You can have a lot of white or people who come from a similar power structure from another country — so how is that diverse, right? Even within American context, in a program of about 500 students, we have 8-10 black students. And if you look internationally…and like India, which is one of the biggest contingents of students coming from India and there is one Dalit student, and I think I know one OBC student. We have a huge contingent from Brazil, but I have not seen any afros, Latinos, or indigenous people in my program. So one has to think about this whole structure of how diversity is not just international but who are the marginalised people in these countries or communities. And public policy schools who become these pipelines for, let’s say the UN or the World Bank, and other spaces that influence change, which influence politics. Policies in their respective countries are upon them to think about these questions of diversity much deeper and not trying to have a lot of people from different nationalities and ethnicities.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan: I think what it really starts for me is — first of all — all of these programs need to add caste as a protected category. If they have done that work, it helps them better understand that axis within which they need to address caste in their diversity programs, in their recruitment for both faculty and students, but I also think this giving a heart of what you are talking about is that I guarantee you if you talk to any of those people who come out of these programs, they will talk your ear about how much they need to decolonise and they can talk about Homi Bhabha, or anyone of the post-colonial thinkers, but they will never have the same level of self-reflection about how Brahminical hegemony operates very much the same as colonial hegemonies. And that to me is really the core of what you are saying — is that if we don’t diversify, who gets to shape and be the architects of policy for the next generation of Indians. We will actually see Brahminical hegemonies continue all the way down the line. And so, people who are in these sectors — philanthropy, development or other sorts of governmental policies, if they are deeply committed to the conversation of equity and poverty upliftment they need to behave differently. They need to change differently and they need to be able to not look at, ‘Oh, we are diverse because if we have one Dalit on our team…’, ‘I have Dalit supervisors, we have Adivasi supervisors’, ‘Oh look, for the next five years we are going to have every program officer from this program only be Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi.’

Think how much will change structurally if that happens. Even at the core level of the faculty, these programs and also how the conversation about what is the need is shaped if we had core equity at the table, the entire understanding of why our region faces underdevelopment would absolutely shift. And I think Benson, that’s really some of the promise of your work and some of your colleagues are really building that next-generation Dalit, Bahujans who can create those interventions.

I am just wondering, if you have any last words for our audience, ’cause you have had a full range of thoughts that you brought to our listeners to think about. But policy is not something usually most people get visibility on. It is like we are pulling behind the curtain, behind the wizard, right? And I just want to see what last thoughts you have, particularly as we are opening up a new area of conversation for many people who may not have thought caste operates in.

Benson Neethipudi: I mean one of the questions people ask me…I have had colleagues ask me, or developmental economists ask me what should we do to change this, and it’s interesting. I remember at one time, somebody was saying, “Hey! If I drop my last name does it help?” I just tell them to drop your privilege, drop it till it hurts, because if you will drop your surname now, but you don’t have to anymore. The whole system is set up and it works. Make way for people from these communities — Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi communities, into these spaces, and it is a long and difficult road because this is the fact of it. Tuition is the gatekeeper and not many people from our communities can afford to be in these places in the first place. And in these intellectual spaces, they are shut out because we do not have the financial capital to be in these places and make way to sponsor or create these scholarships or funding for students from these backgrounds to be in these spaces.

Make way for your research to do such kind of work. You keep researching about the same things in terms of, ‘Oh, only about 47 percent of students are in private schools’. But think about the other people — incorporate this into your research. Lot of things I speak about is interesting. A lot of things that I know from my lived experience, what I see in my relatives, my families and when I come back and do a structured researched design, I already know this — when I do the research the numbers come back to populate and support what I just said. All of this I know because of my lived experience and because of that I ask these questions.

Most folks don’t ask these questions because that is not their experience, or that is not how they see the world. So, I urge my colleagues, the policy spaces to make way for more people from Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi spaces to be here. When I say make way, I mean create opportunities to build the pipeline to be in these spaces and build their experiences. When you talk about caste, talk front the point of view of upper castes — what is happening in your households. Instead of saying just ‘caste violence’, why don’t you talk about how as upper castes for you caste is normalised. We only know about Karamchedu or Chunduru or Rohit Vemula. This is the extreme way in which caste has manifested, where lives were lost and blood was spilt but caste is normalised in your day-to-day interactions. You can have a diversity audit in your office, you can write these brilliant papers, but if you go home and give people working at your home separate utensils or you don’t have respect for the bunch of people who clean your toilets or pick up your trash then all of this won’t work. So you have to make it personal at some level.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan: Yes, definitely. And I think that’s really the call to action, so I think we will leave Benson with the last word. We don’t want people to just drop their last name, we want them to drop their privilege till it hurts. So, thank you Benson for giving us those really wise words and a lot to think about as we look at creating a more diverse approach to policy and development. Thank you again for joining us Benson, and thank you all who joined us online and we look forward to talking with you all on the next episode. Jai Bhim, everyone.

(Transcription by Pritha Bhattacharya)

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