YLI Reflections: Shifting South Asian Spaces with Sahana

At this moment in the his­to­ry of South Asians in the Unit­ed States, we can­not afford to be com­plic­it. We must mobi­lize in sol­i­dar­i­ty with oth­er mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. The recent detain­ment of immi­grant rights activist leader Ravi Rag­bir demon­strates that those who stand up against injus­tice in our com­mu­ni­ties are the first to be tar­get­ed by this vio­lent, xeno­pho­bic, racist admin­is­tra­tion. We can be remind­ed by Ravi’s release of the pow­er of our com­mu­ni­ties, and the ways in which we can use our bod­ies, minds, and priv­i­lege to resist oppres­sive regimes like the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion.

At the Young Lead­ers Insti­tute (YLI), I learned about the resilience of South Asian and Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties. For over a cen­tu­ry, Mus­lim and Sikh com­mu­ni­ties in the Unit­ed States, as well as in South Asia, have been sur­veilled and tar­get­ed by Islam­o­pho­bic and anti-Sikh insti­tu­tions. South Asian fem­i­nist facil­i­ta­tors like Dr. Maha Hilal, Darak­shan Raja, and Noor Mir remind­ed me of the impor­tance of inter­sec­tion­al work that cen­ters the community’s most mar­gin­al­ized groups and inter­ro­gates all sys­tems of pow­er.

Despite what mis­lead­ing data on Asian & Pacif­ic Islanders in the Unit­ed States sug­gest, South Asians are an incred­i­bly diverse group of peo­ple with a mul­ti­tude of posi­tion­al­i­ties. South Asians need not be homoge­nous to stand, work, and fight in sol­i­dar­i­ty with one anoth­er. Rather, we must do the labor of lis­ten­ing and under­stand­ing each oth­ers’ unique expe­ri­ences and his­to­ries in order to be a true com­mu­ni­ty.

For my YLI project, I focused my ener­gies on build­ing South Asian spaces on my col­lege cam­pus, the Clare­mont Col­leges, ded­i­cat­ed inter­sec­tion­al South Asian activism. Four years ago, there was no space on cam­pus for South Asians to explore ques­tions of iden­ti­ty and posi­tion­al­i­ty in mean­ing­ful ways. Because of the tire­less efforts of a sin­gle South Asian stu­dent, Jin­cy Varugh­ese, a one-per­son com­mit­tee called Desi Table was cre­at­ed just three years ago. Since then, SAMP, a men­tor­ship pro­gram for South Asian first-years and trans­fers has launched, and the Com­mit­tee for South Asian Voic­es (for­mer­ly Desi Table) has put on sev­er­al events, now with 10 devot­ed mem­bers. Genealo­gies like this one inspired me to con­tin­ue push­ing this work for­ward for my YLI project.

This year, the Com­mit­tee for South Asian Voic­es has put on events to explore queer South Asian sto­ries, the caste sys­tem and the Indi­an state, NGOiza­tion and gen­der in India, the Rohingya refugee cri­sis, Indo-Caribbean his­to­ries, pro­cess­ing South Asians in media, dias­poric his­to­ries, and inter­per­son­al vio­lence in South Asian com­mu­ni­ties. Along­side the depart­ment for Fem­i­nist Gen­der Sex­u­al­i­ty Stud­ies at Scripps Col­lege, Equal­i­ty Labs, and sev­er­al oth­er cam­pus groups and depart­ments, Pro­fes­sor Piya Chat­ter­jee and I were able to bring Dalit rights activist Cyn­thia Stephen to cam­pus. Cynthia’s vis­it was an incred­i­ble inter­ven­tion to push all of us to think more deeply about Brah­man­i­cal patri­archy, Dalit-Black sol­i­dar­i­ties, and the con­stant resis­tance of Dalit peo­ple. Cynthia’s vis­it was part of her Dalit His­to­ry Month tour, coor­di­nat­ed in part­ner­ship with Then­mozhi Soundarara­jan of Equal­i­ty Labs. For our final two work­shops of the year, we part­nered with South Asian Net­work (SAN), an orga­ni­za­tion com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing cru­cial ser­vices for South Asians in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and to cre­at­ing com­mu­ni­ty spaces.

Inspired by the work of Jaha­jee Sis­ters, the Alliance of South Asians Tak­ing Action, Desis Ris­ing Up & Mov­ing, and so many oth­ers, we are fol­low­ing in deep tra­di­tions of South Asian activism in the Unit­ed States. When­ev­er I feel lost or won­der why I do this work, his­to­ries of South Asian resis­tance remind me that I am right where I belong, with­in and along­side com­mu­ni­ty.

To learn more about Equal­i­ty Labs, click here.
To learn more about South Asian Net­work, click here.
To learn more about ASATA, click here.
To learn more about DRUM, click here.

The views and opin­ions expressed in this arti­cle are those of the author and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly reflect the offi­cial pol­i­cy or posi­tion of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT). South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) is a nation­al, non­par­ti­san, non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that fights for racial jus­tice and advo­cates for the civ­il rights of all South Asians in the Unit­ed States. Our ulti­mate vision is dig­ni­ty and full inclu­sion for all.