A Diwali Message from Sadhana

A Diwali Message from Sadhana

"On this occasion of Diwali, we gather in our homes, temples, and community centers to celebrate the victory of light over darkness."

"Diwali is not simply a festival for us to meet with our families, but also a time for us to reflect on the meaning of dharma. It is variously translated as “duty”, “morality”, “honor”, and “calling”."

"With so much suffering in the world, it behooves the Hindu community to help others escape suffering, to empower them to take hold of their destinies, and fulfill their own dharmas."

Inviting Hindus to Perform Seva in Houston, Texas

Inviting Hindus to Perform Seva in Houston, Texas

Its hard to imagine, in this day and age, and in a wealthy nation like America, that we are still under the mercy of Prithvi Ma (Mother Nature) and how quickly a few hours of rain can devastate an entire city. Hurricane Harvey is an urgent call to all of us, and not the first call of this kind, to do our part to protect our lands and seas, and to stem the tide of climate change. I live in a part of Houston which is completely flooded, but was lucky enough to be able to move to another neighborhood temporarily. I am including photos of the neighborhood I call home, Montrose, sent to me by my neighbors.

Ganesh Chaturthi Reflection

Ganesh Chaturthi Reflection

Understandably, one might say that we don’t invite non-Hindus and non-Indians to our festivals and celebrations because they might feel uncomfortable or out of place. However, there is a growing tradition of secular alternatives to and secular spaces within religious events, as seen in Diwali and Holi, both of which are steeped in traditional Hindu practices that might ordinarily turn off outsiders due to a lack of familiarity. Yet it is this lack of familiarity that prevents us from engaging in proper acts of solidarity. For more obscure, yet arguably more important events like my thread ceremony, there is little to no knowledge on how it impacts our culture or our practices

I'm an Ambiguous Hindu

I'm an Ambiguous Hindu

The work to create a movement of progressive Hinduism is equal parts always both deeply enlivening and deeply agonizing. It’s important, first and foremost, to clearly state that Hinduism itself is not necessarily more unique or intense than other traditions like Christianity or Islam in terms of the fluidity and diversity underlying the structures of the tradition and community itself, nor is Hinduism necessarily more unique or intense in terms of the presence of, and the need to resist, destructive, stunted fundamentalist elements which warp and box in the tradition’s natural flow.

Not In My Name: I refuse to cede Hinduism to those who want to make India a Hindu rashtra

I will never forget that cold and rainy day in New York in March 2011. I was part of an inter-faith vigil to support the creation of a Muslim cultural centre at lower Manhattan, close to Ground Zero of the September 11, 2001, attack. Just as I began to lament the absence of Hindus at the vigil (as is often the case), I heard a beautiful Hindu prayer over a megaphone. But to my horror, I realised the prayer was being sung by a saffron-clad man on the other side of the police line, who was protesting because he believed that to build a Muslim centre and mosque close to Ground Zero was to dishonour the hundreds that died at the hands of Muslim terrorists on 9/11.

Until then, my Hinduism had been private and my activism public. But on that day, I vowed to never again allow someone to use Hinduism to preach hatred in my presence without countering them saying: “Not in my name.

But even as I write this piece, I come across news of yet another lynchingin India – this time of a 15-year-old Muslim boy died after he and his brothers were allegedly attacked by a group of 10-12 Hindu men on a train.

This is not the Hinduism I recognise, or accept.

Monstrous growth

In 2011, a few of us created the group Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, headquartered in New York, because we could no longer bear that there was no politically progressive Hindu voice in the face of a growing and rampantly Islamophobic and casteist Hindu nationalist movement. Sadhana’s founders and members are Hindus who were raised to believe that the heart of our religion is pluralistic. We were taught to embrace the teachings of oneness of all (ekatva), compassion and nonviolence to all beings and all the universe (ahimsa). We have worked hard over the years – writing, speaking, marching, organising events and holding Hinduism classes for children that are grounded in the teachings of social justice at the heart of Hindu texts – and have been recognised for our efforts.

In the years since we began, our numbers have grown, but not nearly enough.

What has, meanwhile, grown in monstrous proportions in this period is the movement of Hindu nationalists.

Amid the growing incidents of lynching, in recent weeks we have come across several articles by writers and intellectuals in India asking the same question in various ways: Where are the progressive Hindus?

In the Wire, Harsh Mander asked: “Where are India’s Dissenting Hindus?”

In the Hindustan TimesRamchandra Guha wrote:

“Hindu liberalism, once so vigorous and on the ascendant, is increasingly besieged, as the leadership of the community passes into the hands of bigots and reactionaries. Having (to quote Gandhi) once lived in a house whose windows were kept open to let the breeze from outside come in freely, having once (to invoke Tagore) gloried in the illumination of a lamp lit anywhere in the world, Hindu leaders are now turning inwards, looking backwards.

And large sections of the community are following their lead. Thus ever larger numbers of Hindus ‘seem to have locked their sensibilities with a huge padlock and have thrown the key away’. Besides, ‘it has become difficult to open that lock. If you choose to break it open you are considered an enemy of Hinduism and an anti-Hindu person’.”

Ananya Vajpeyi, in a piece for Scroll.in, spoke of the erosion of public empathy and warned, “Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je peed paraai jaane re. Soon there will be no one of that description left in the majoritarian Hindu Rashtra.”

Also on Scroll.in, Samar Halarnkar wrote in the context of the response to recent lynchings: “But this is not just about the conservative Hindu Right. What is not in evidence among most Hindus is condemnation, sympathy for those lynched or public expressions of unity with minorities.”

Speaking up as a Hindu

In my experience, everyone speaking up for human rights in India, even if their name sounds Hindu, is loath to identify as one. And anyone identifying publicly as a Hindu, almost without exception, supports the idea of Hindutva.

I have reached out to numerous progressive Hindu-born Indian thinkers and activists, including some of those quoted above, asking if they would identify as a Hindu when they critique and condemn Hindutva. They either explain politely that they are not religious, or say that they are avowed secularists and to speak up as a Hindu in India would alienate minority communities, cause non-Hindu allies to mistrust them, and compromise their commitment to secularism.

Generally, Indian Leftists and progressives react to the notion of a progressive Hindu movement with respectful scepticism. I am sometimes told that Hinduism and Hindus are irredeemable because our scriptures are casteist and elitist at their core.

The result is that practicing Hindus who are against the violent Islamophobia of the Hindu right feel alienated from and unwelcome in the human rights movements in India. Keeping this massive group out strikes me as a strategic, ethical and practical blunder, if the desired goal is justice for all.

The response that many practicing Hindus have to the deep suspicion of Hinduism and Hindus on the part of Leftists and progressives is an understandably defensive one: all Leftists and progressives are accused of being anti-Hindu or Hindu-phobic. The anger that ought to be directed at Hindu nationalists ends up being directed at Leftists and progressives. Any critique of Hindutva is seen as a critique of Hinduism itself and of all Hindus.

Asking “Where are the progressive or dissenting Hindus?” and bemoaning the rise of violent Hindutva is no longer enough. It is imperative we work together to open the eyes of practicing Hindus. Many may be quietly living their lives, praying rather than protesting – perhaps too afraid, too apathetic, or just too worn out to rise up against Hindutva. I believe many are grieving the deaths of those lynched at the hands of Hindus, but just feel powerless. We need to include them, mobilise them, inspire them to take a stand.

When progressive Jews (both practicing religious Jews and those who aren’t religious) advocate for Palestinian rights and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, they do so as Jews who refuse to cede the public voice of Judaism to right-wing Islamophobic Jews who are committing human rights atrocities.

I call on every Hindu Indian who cares about justice, whether they are religious or not, to speak up as Hindu, and refuse to cede Hinduism and the Hindu public voice to those who want to make India a Hindu Rashtra.

In the words of a wise man from another faith, Rabbi Hillel, from 2000 years ago: “If not now, then when? And if not us, then who?”

Eid-Al-Fitr Celebration in City Hall

Eid-Al-Fitr Celebration in City Hall

Diversity of religions and cultures are no strangers to me. I grew up with a Muslim Father, and a Hindu Mother. I’ve heard melodious Adzans in Mosques, and harmonious Bhajans in Temples. When I left City hall that evening, the last performance of the Tabla, and Guitar lingered in my mind—two completely different instruments coming together to create this beautiful sound. At first glance, it might have seemed like the different sounds from these instruments would have clashed, but instead, they complimented each other, highlighting the beauty in each other’s own unique sound. People and religions are the same in that way. Our differences may at first seem like they will conflict with each other and clash, but a closer examination would show that they do more to highlight the beauty of our uniqueness.

#NotInMyName and the Fight for a Progressive Hinduism

#NotInMyName and the Fight for a Progressive Hinduism

We are clear in rejecting caste—and thus rejecting Brahmanism—as an essential component of our Hinduism. Like Sadhana advisory board member Prof. Anantanand Rambachan, we argue that there is a "theological vision at the heart of Hinduism", based on ideals of ekatva, ahimsa, and seva, "that invalidates the assumptions of inequality, impurity, and indignity that are the foundations of caste belief and practice."

Prem Se Kaho Hum Hindu Hain (Say with love that we are Hindu)

Prem Se Kaho Hum Hindu Hain (Say with love that we are Hindu)

Most importantly, we were determined not to build Sadhana in reaction to more conservative voices and forces in the world. Rather, we would root this work in our understanding of core Hindu teachings: the oneness of all regardless of race, caste, sex, sexual orientation, etc (ekatva); the notion that a life of service (karma yoga) is a valid path to God; the goal of ahimsa (nonviolence/minimizing of suffering and environmental degradation); and dharma (prioritization of righteous action without desire and attachments). We named ourselves Sadhana because “sadhana” means “the practice of faith,” and we want to be an organization of action rather than just words.

To be Brown: Hindu Students Taking a Stand

To be Brown: Hindu Students Taking a Stand

We wish for our oppressions to be recognized — post-election, we are reminded of how our brownness defines our experiences as Americans. We are affected by hate by the systems, institutions and policies of white supremacy, misogyny, racism, economic inequality, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia. We are expected to speak perfect, unaccented English, even though for many of us it is not our first language. Our cultures and religions are appropriated and disrespected. Our cultures are considered “exotic” and “exciting,” though we fight to preserve them every day. We thereby reject this commodification, objectification and tokenization of our cultures and our bodies.

My Wife, Our Ben, and This World

My Wife, Our Ben, and This World

Two life-changing events recently happened to my body and consciousness, and both were unforgettable. First was marrying my past life’s soul mate, and second was shaving my head. I have never been given a smile and frown at the same time, so many times and by so many people ever in my life. “Congratulations! What happened to your hair?” See, many Indo-Caribbeans tie a person’s hair to their health, and to have little or none of it at my age means you must have a terminal illness. What was worse was the blame that my wife received for a choice I made on my own. It was shocking, but forced me to confront a power that when I understood it, created a clandestine persuasion of those who remained questioners. The more I began owning the new Rohan, the karmic propagandist, the more Rohan’s emerged from within it.

Caste: A Relic of Indo-Caribbean History or Ever Present?

I’ve been called a “dougla” so many times throughout my life because of my hair. My hair gets a lot of attention – it is a massive fluff of soft curls. When relatives and friends used to refer to me as “dougla,” I thought that the term was synonymous with being of half-Indian, half-African descent. In Guyana, where my parents are from, “dougla” is a term used to describe those who appear to be biracial. However, like the word “mulatto,” “dougla” is often considered derogatory. In Guyana, even to this day, racial tensions exist among the two primary ethnicities of the nation. These tensions have run high for decades, in part due to political turmoil and in part due to competing migrant experiences; Africans migrated as slaves in the late 1600s and Indians as indentured servants in the early 1800s. Many Indo-Guyanese harbor deep seated resentment towards Afro-Guyanese and vice versa, stemming as far back as British colonialization. Calling someone a “dougla” therefore, can be akin to using profanity.


Sadhana is commemorating International Women’s Day by standing in solidarity with Radhika Vemula. We share her grief due to the loss of her son Rohith to casteist discrimination; we condemn the emotional and physical attacks on her integrity and person she has suffered at the hands of police more than once.  Sadhana honors Radhika Vemula and pledges solidarity with her, and all those fighting against caste discrimination. We call on Hindus in India and around the world to join us in standing firmly against caste and casteism. If we are all one, interconnected and equally connected to the divine, then we all should have equal access to justice. Join us in declaring that it is unacceptable, unjust and un-Hindu to discriminate on the basis of caste.

Hate Leaves No (Grave)Stone Unturned

The mind cannot begin to fathom how much chaos surrounds us today. As a nation grows weary with divide and mistrust, many of us can barely muster the energy to stand at the forefront of so many issues, let alone understand the depravity of injustice and what it is capable of doing. The nation that taught me growing up that pluralism is key to the development and prosperity of all people is now being challenged by the likes of a monolithic and fervorous nationalism that seeks to blame 'the other', hate 'the other', and hurt 'the other'. 

Vandalism and violence have gripped many communities for decades, even centuries now, at the hands of ignorant and equally fearful people who misunderstand others while wanting their own safety and stability. The Jewish community has been one of many communities in 2017 to bears witness to such horrible treatment as over 100 synagogues and Jewish community centers have received calls of bomb threats that have led to evacuations and a sharp increase in the need for added security and intervention from federal agencies. As if this was not enough to show a clear message of hate-mongering towards a specific community, 2 Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia had hundreds of gravesites desecrated and damaged in what could be considered a blunt message...

Hate has left any stone unturned; the depravity of moral consciousness does not even let the dead rest in peace. Neither you nor your deceased loved ones are welcome here.

The level of cowardice and audacity that has emerged from the shadows has no place in a society as diverse and inclusive as the United States of America. More importantly, these harsh words and actions against innocent people defy our duty as Hindus and Americans. 

Statement on Bomb of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine in Sindh, Pakistan

Sadhana Coalition of Progressive Hindus offers our most sincere prayers to the 75 men, women, and children who were killed and the hundreds who were injured earlier this week at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sindh, Pakistan.

Pakistani author Haroon Khalid writes, "While claiming responsibility for the attack, ISIS called it a Shia gathering. They couldn’t be more wrong. Religious devotees at the shrine of this 12th century saint cannot be compartmentalised into categories through which ISIS sees the world. To his devotees, [Lal Shahbaz Qalandar] is not a Muslim or a Shia saint. He is a peer, who cannot be constrained by confines of religious boundaries. To the Sindhi Hindus, forming the largest religious minority in the country, he is their peer as much as he is the peer for Muslims.

There is perhaps no other shrine in the country that captures the essence of religious syncretism like the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. In his courtyard, it feels as if the riots of Partition never happened, as if Sindhi Hindus were never forced to abandon their land, as if Christian settlements in Punjab had never been burned after alleged cases of blasphemy. The courtyard of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar represents a different world, a world that once existed but has slowly disappeared … The attack is not on the shrine but on this worldview which does not divide humanity into simplistic separate categories." (https://scroll.in/article/829667/pakistan-suicide-bombing-why-isis-feels-so-threatened-by-sindhs-lal-shahbaz-qalandar-shrine)

Do the Right Thing, Preet Bharara!

Do the Right Thing, Preet Bharara!

Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus is participating in a collaborative interfaith effort today, February 9th 2017, to mobilize as many people as possible to call US Attorney Preet Bharara and ask for a full federal investigation into the murder of Mohamed Bah. The number to call is 212-637-2200.

I am a mother of three boys – two are grown and one is still a child. I know what it is to give birth to a boy and raise him to manhood.  

On January 12th, I participated in a vigil for another mother’s son who was stolen from her, a woman whose heart is shattered. I hugged Hawa Bah tightly, and felt her whole body shake in my arms with grief.

Hindu Solidarity with Muslims

Hindu Solidarity with Muslims

When I was a toddler, my masi (mother’s sister) gave me a hard back of the Stories from Panchatantra, a book of moral tales where different animals, humans and some of the gods interact.

There is one story that is particularly relevant for our current times. The Four Friends is about a mouse, crow, tortoise and deer. One day, deer was missing, so the other three friends went in search of her, and found her trapped in a hunter’s net, so they helped her free from the net. As they were leaving, the hunter came back, and the four friends fled, however, tortoise was not fast enough to hide, so the hunter grabbed him, and put him in a bag.

A Hindu Thanksgiving Prayer and Pledge

A Hindu Thanksgiving Prayer and Pledge

This is the Thanksgiving after an election result which has opened the floodgates of hate crimes and incidents, and has filled our immigrant and minority communities with nothing short of terror. The reported hate crimes since election day are now numbered at 701, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

The Sunday after the election, a group of parents of kids attending Brooklyn Bala Vihar, a Hindu Sunday school where I teach along with other parents, were spat at by a man who said, “I don’t like Indians and Pakistanis.” And a Brooklyn Heights playground where my kids played often when they were small, was defaced with swastikas.

Guest Presentation at "Religions in the City" Class at Union Theological Seminary

Guest Presentation at "Religions in the City" Class at Union Theological Seminary

Reflections of a Humble Karma Yogi

Guest presentation by Sunita Viswanath in

“Religions in the City” class at Union Theological Seminary, October 26, 2016

My life’s work has been in women’s rights, but like most left-leaning social justice-oriented Hindus, for most of my life, I kept my work very separate from my religious life.  I am not a scholar practitioner, but an ardent activist practitioner, and it is with great humility that I share my journey.

Kamala And Gopal Singh: Embodying The Progressive Heart Of Hinduism

Kamala And Gopal Singh: Embodying The Progressive Heart Of Hinduism

by Sunita Viswanath, Sadhana Co-Founder

The mission of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus is to build a platform for social justice minded Hindus. Since the founding of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, we have been seeking out people of Hindu faith and upbringing who have devoted themselves to social justice and seva (service) for the most needy and marginalized in our world. We define such people as progressive Hindus. Kamala and Gopal Singh don’t think of themselves as “progressive Hindus,” but they are exactly that — two shining examples of progressive Hinduism.

A Hinduism Without Caste

Part of my growing up (ages 5 to 10) was in Madras in the 1970s, in an Andhra Brahmin family. It was during those years that I was taught the basics of the Hindu faith and the joys of puja at home, visits to temples near and far, and the celebration of the major Hindu holy days. It was also then that I witnessed and participated in caste discrimination as part of daily life. I was aware of my family’s upper caste, and even though I was only five years old, I understood that this meant we were somehow better or superior. In my family, when we had haircuts, we had to bathe immediately because the barbers were lower caste and would have polluted us. When the “scavenger” (a term used in India for those who manually clean latrine toilets and also sewers; most people who do this work are Dalits) came to clean the toilet, we weren’t even allowed to lay eyes on her. We had separate (cheaper) rice and separate aluminum (not stainless steel) dishes for servants.  I remember also that the women of our household were segregated during menstruation – they stayed in a separate room, weren’t allowed to cook (which, ironically, meant rest), and they also ate on aluminum dishes.  I had my first period on a trip to Madras, and my mom wasn’t with me.  I too experienced that segregation of menstruating women a few times in my life.  I never (in my childhood or adulthood) agreed that people of lower castes and other religions, menstruating, pregnant or widowed women, or anyone at all, were polluting to others and to the things they touched. 

While my cousin’s wife, who comes from a lower caste, is now respected and beloved in our family, I remember clearly the scandal and shame of this inter-caste love marriage when they eloped 40 or so years ago.  For me, a young girl of seven, fed regularly on Bollywood and South Indian movies, this was the ultimate romance – a story of passion and forbidden love, and to my joy, the lovers won over a tradition I didn’t agree with.  Today, my extended family in India is less guilty of such discriminatory practices and many more of my cousins have married outside of their caste, even outside their religion and race. Nevertheless, even now, when some of my family members place matrimonial ads for their children, they identify their caste and require applicants to be of a similar caste, rather than choosing the more progressive “caste no bar” option.

There were some very vivid experiences in my life that were liberating because they enabled me to shed any notions of the impurity of others, and still hold on to my identity as a justice-loving Hindu:  

1) The first was when I argued with my aunt as a very young child about having to bathe after a haircut. I argued that it was a good idea to bathe, not because the barber was a lower caste, but because of all the small bits of cut hair that remain in the hair and all over our necks and shoulders.  I remember challenging my aunt with the argument that humans seem to always consider someone less or inferior to themselves.  “So a right-handed barber probably thinks himself superior to a left-handed barber,” I remember saying.  My doting aunt indulged my arguments, but never really changed her opinions. Practices in my aunt’s home have had to change because of a general process of modernization, but not because of a reconsideration of ethics.

2) Soon after my marriage to a Hindu Indian in New York in 1988, my first mother-in-law told me it was perfectly okay to go to the temple even though I had my period. She said, “Do you love God any less because you have your period? Do you feel dirty or impure?”  I said no, and we went to the temple. 

3) The final example is one of my first meals in Afghanistan, in 2003. Everyone in the house, including drivers and household help, sat down together for the meal, and we all ate from the same plates (with thoughtful accommodations made for the vegetarians in the group). This egalitarian meal was such a powerful antidote to being raised with a mindset that some weren’t worthy of eating with others.

While caste-based violence and discrimination is an everyday reality in India, the topic of caste really doesn’t come up much among Hindus in the United States. However, there is no doubt that both the privilege and stigma of caste have been transplanted to some extent. As Dalit activist Thenmozhi Sounderarajan told Colorlines, “Many of the South Asians who were privileged to migrate [to the U.S.] have privileges related to language, class and, most importantly, to caste. So when the diaspora is said to be “casteless,” or South Asians want to say that caste doesn't exist here, it basically erases the vocabulary we have to talk about the hierarchical privileges we occupy. Caste is all around us. We know that gurudwaras [temples] are organized by caste and that people still marry and associate along caste lines. When you look at the majority of the faculty in South Asian departments in North America, you have one to two professors who are Dalit but none are tenured.”1

I have rarely come across a Hindu temple where the priests are anything but Brahmin men. And caste is most certainly discussed during weddings: parents in the West are having to come to terms with their children marrying non-Hindus and non-Indians, but they are unlikely to be overjoyed at the prospect of a Dalit son- or daughter-in-law.  Muslims and African Americans are also unpopular choices for sons- and daughters-in-law.

Interestingly, in the United Kingdom, there are efforts underway to introduce legislation to make caste discrimination an offence.  According to an article in The Guardian last month, “Research by the British government has found evidence of caste discrimination among Britons of Asian origin in the workplace and in schools. Legislation is due to be introduced this year to make caste discrimination an offence in Britain.”2  

The issue is very contentious and politicized. UK-based advocacy organizations including CasteWatch UK and Dalit Solidarity Network have been leading the efforts to recognize caste discrimination as a form of discrimination distinct from discrimination based on race, gender and religion.  Those opposed to such legislation, mostly Hindus and Sikhs, argue that it would lead to institutionalizing caste whereas caste isn’t even a big issue on the minds of South Asians. I certainly wouldn’t want Hindus, Sikhs and others to have to disclose caste at birth when filling out government forms and applying for jobs – this doesn’t seem like progressive change. Personally speaking, I’m not sure what I’d be expected disclose – would I be a Brahmin because of my birth, a Vaishya because of my first marriage, or a Dalit because of my second marriage to a Jew? And yet, there ought to be a way for victims of caste-based discrimination to fight for justice. People don’t have to disclose their sexual orientation when applying for a job, but they can still sue if there is discrimination. Why should caste be any different?

If caste-based discrimination is as rare as Hindus and Sikhs in the West seem to think it is, and we are all committed to ending it, then what is the danger of legislation which criminalizes caste-based discrimination?  The onus will be on the victim to prove discrimination – we all know how hard that would be – and if there is proof, then let there be punishment.  We know, working on the environment that businesses and individuals don’t abstain from Styrofoam use, nor do they recycle and carry reusable shopping bags because it is the right thing to do; behavior change is encouraged and accelerated by progressive legislation, and I see nothing wrong with that. While the caste debate in the UK is very interesting, I am not aware of any effort to mobilize practicing Hindus to advocate against caste and caste discrimination in their personal lives and faith communities.  Sadhana is committed to living and building a Hinduism which rejects caste and caste discrimination.

Hindus are right to point out that there are innumerable instances within our scriptures which teach us that in the eyes of God, we are all one.  Many important characters in Hindu epics were from lower castes. For example, Vidhura was born to a shudra mother, and both Krishna and Karna were kshatriyas by birth but were raised in much lower caste families. Valmiki and Kamban who authored versions of the Ramayana, and Veda Vyasa who authored the Mahabharata, were all from castes which we would today consider Dalit. Also, many of our bhakti saint-poets (Tukaram and Raidas are examples) were from the lower castes.  Indeed, I believe that Hinduism as expressed in its texts and its history is inherently progressive, and requires no contorted hermeneutics to arrive at its progressive values of justice, fairness and equality.

I want to live in a world where caste is a shameful vestige of the past. I cringe when even here, in the States, I hear people identify themselves as TamBrams or Vaidiki Brahmins. But then, in a way, this is no different to a Dalit person referring to their status with pride.  How do we work towards the annihilation of caste when so many people of all castes, high and low, consider their caste a central part of their identity?

So, as Hindus who aren’t ready to turn our backs on Hinduism but who believe in equality and justice, the question is:  what exactly do we do?

We can't change history, and we can't change the world overnight, but we can act to address these issues.  Here are some baby steps Sadhana is taking: 

·       We will stay true and committed to the principle of oneness at the heart of Hinduism, the idea that the same divinity is inherent in each one of us, regardless of caste, gender, race, religion.

·       We understand the privilege that comes with being born a caste Hindu, and what that status means and does to those who don't have it. We are committed to working against such hierarchy and its toxic effects.

·       We will disseminate progressive readings of Hindu texts.

·       We will stand in solidarity with Dalit movements for justice, and opposed to all forms of caste discrimination.  Truth-telling is core to our sadhana (the practice of our faith) – and we will speak up every time we see injustice and oppression.

·       We in Sadhana reject any personal affiliation with caste or the system of castes, We realize that this is a privileged choice, but it is the starting point for our journey into a world where we are all free from the mechanism of caste.. Others can identify as they wish, and if caste is an important part of someone’s identity, we respect their choice so long as they do not see themselves as higher or lower than others, and so long as they do not perpetrate abuses based on caste.  

·       We will try to worship in temples where all castes participate equally.  We may need to help create more such temples that see all as equal, and where anyone can be priests, regardless of caste at birth or gender.

·       And most importantly, we dream this dream with humility.  In small ways, every day, we will do our part to build a lived Hinduism where all are truly equal.



1      How to Fight a Deadly Caste System, Colorlines, April 21, 2015


2      London house to become museum to Indian activist, Guardian, June 14, 2015



Sunita Viswanath is a co-founder and board member of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus.