SACRAMENTO (Diya TV) – Equality Labs Executive Director Thenmozhi Soundararajan spoke to Diya TV’s Ravi Kapur exclusively after the latest hearing involving SB 403, the caste discrimination legislation proposed in California. The State Assembly Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to move the bill forward, taking it one step closer to becoming state law, which would be the first law of its kind in the U.S.
Soundararajan says it is “a time to heal” and commented on criticism mounted against her and her organization.
Below is a transcript of the conversation, edited lightly for clarity:
Give your thoughts on the [SB 403] hearing today.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan: What we saw was history in the making. We saw the South Asian community united across caste, across faith, connected to multi racial, workers’ rights, women’s rights, and racial justice issues. And it’s a time to heal. We cannot go on denying that caste exists. Caste is here and we need a remedy to this discrimination. And you saw thousands of people from all across the state, from San Diego County, all the way to Shasta County. That is how powerful this juggernaut of a movement is here. And all we want to do is to stop the pain and stop the discrimination. And that’s something all of us can get behind. So we really wanna reach out to our opposition, tell them, put down the sword. Come and join us in this healing because we’re here to get free.
Ravi Kapur: [What do you have to say to] the folks here who are very concerned about further discrimination? Obviously all of us are being judged by how we look, how we sound, our backgrounds every single day. For the South Asian community specifically, we’ve dealt with so much strife historically. What do you have to say to those who say this is going to further the discrimination that we already face?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan: Well, I think one thing that’s very important is that SB 403, the bill to end caste discrimination only targets those that discriminate. If you don’t discriminate, you won’t have an issue. However, I think that there are people who are afraid because whenever there is progress towards civil rights, there are people who are rooted in their fragility, and there’s an answer to that. There’s healing. There’s circles where we can discuss and come together around reconciliation, but what we’re not going to do is deny caste any further. Every single worker, family and person who has faced caste discrimination that came forward will not stop until we are all free, because this bill is also for our opponents. If they face caste discrimination, they can also experience it so, I’m really, really hoping that we can come together and heal. The time for ending this discrimination is now. This is a juggernaut of a movement that will not stop because we are rooted in the law. We are rooted in love and we are rooted in peace and we hope everyone will join us.
Ravi Kapur: Are you gonna take this message to all 50 states?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan: You know, we are going to go everywhere that caste is and free all peoples.
Ravi Kapur: So this is a global movement?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan: Yeah. We were always a global movement. We are all Ambedkar’s children. And everywhere that caste is found, you will see Ambedkar’s children rising up to free all peoples.
Ravi Kapur: You’ve been in the limelight for a number of years. We’ve followed your stories. A lot of folks take shots at Quality Labs, the organization. Can you dispel some of that for us? Are you a for-profit organization?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan: I don’t speak to disinformation, but I think that what we should do as a South Asian community is unite and heal. It is time to stop doing low blows and targeting civil rights organizations. The bottom line is, is that caste exists. We are not going away as civil rights movements. The same kind of people that target us are also the people in history that targeted the NAACP, that targeted Martin Luther King. We have seen every time that there is the flow of civil rights progress, people will try to demean those individuals and organizations, but we will not sync to the level of disinformation. We are here to heal. And our biggest model of that was Dr. Ambedkar. Imagine how many people tortured Dr. Ambedkar around his positions around equity. Every single one of his words has become law. So think about it. We have thousands of people that are standing here that are saying that they wanna be free. Each one of us is a child of Ambedkar that is gonna free our communities and we want everybody to join us.
Ravi Kapur: But don’t you want to dispel some of this because a lot of people take pot shots at you personally, as well as the organization. So why not just spell it out for us? Where does your funding come from and are you a for-profit organization?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan: So again, I don’t speak to disinformation and I don’t give space to bullies and neither should you. Thank you.