Malayalees for Social Justice
Malayalees for Social Justice

This US Malayalee organisation fights racism, casteism and gender bias

Malayalees for Social Justice has its roots in the Black Lives Matter movement but rebranded itself to address various areas of discrimination.

In June 2020, days after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, United States, a group of activists sprouted among many others in the worldwide movement that would be called Black Lives Matter (BLM). They were called Malayalees for Black Lives Matter (MBLM), fighting against the injustice of George Floyd’s daylight murder by police officer Derek Chauvin. In 2021, MBLM rebranded to Malayalees for Social Justice (MSJ), since the cause they were fighting for was much larger – it was about racial discrimination but also casteism in their homeland of Kerala and how casteism informs anti-Blackness.

Watch: MSJ introduces leadership team

“Last year, we came together as a group of like-minded Malayalees who recognised the need to stand with the Black community. As immigrants, as Malayalee Americans, we as a community have a responsibility to stand with our Black and Indigenous community members. For the first time ever in US history, we saw protests in all 50 states. Derek Chauvin was recently pronounced guilty for all the charges pursued against him. This is one form of accountability but it is not true justice. Historically, the American criminal justice system has not held white perpetrators accountable [against Black victims] and this was one time they did. We hope this verdict will be a precedent for future race-related cases in America,” says Sini Stephan, a founding member of Malayalees for Social Justice.

Over the past year, Malayalees for Social Justice has called to action Malayalees across the country and have been asked many questions on how the organisation would move forward. Discussions led to the realisation that their work should be intersectional. “There are so many variables. Even in our homeland of Kerala, we have the caste system and caste supremacy. Many of us on the leadership team are upper caste. We have to acknowledge our power and privilege and how we've historically disenfranchised Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi (DBA) communities. If we are going to speak about Black lives, we need to also speak about our own history of oppression, of perpetrating violence against Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi people,” Sini says.

Recognising that their work in antiracism is intersectional, the organisation rebranded to Malayalees for Social Justice. The leadership team includes, apart from Sini, Cindu Thomas-George, Richu Aby, Kelly Kurien, Rebekah Lovett, Shereene Manimala, Alex Mathai, Anit Ann Roy, and Jyothis James.

As an organisation, they are committed to dismantling white supremacy, caste supremacy, and patriarchal capitalist structures. Over the past year, they have had several educational workshops with notable speakers including Founder and Executive Director of Equality Labs, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, and US Representative, Pramila Jayapal.

Watch: MSJ in conversation with Thenmozhi Soundararajan

“Our three pillars are advocate, uplift, and educate. Our discussions varied from educational racism, medical racism, and caste supremacy. We also hosted a conversation entitled Black and Brown Love, where we interviewed Malayalee women and their Black American partners who shared their own interpersonal experiences of racism and anti-Blackness in the Malayalee community. Another one of our founding members, Cindu Thomas-George, shared how she was racialised as a Brown Malayalee woman in her article, A Sand-N****r Bridesmaid, highlighting racism in the US beyond the Black and White binary,” Sini says.

The MSJ encourages community members to come forward about racist and casteist experiences that they have witnessed or experienced so that the community begins a practice of reporting such behaviour. Sini shares how important it is to report an incident even if it does not become a legal case. “When you write a report against a perpetrator, it holds them accountable for their actions on record. When power and privilege go unchecked, it perpetuates systems of abuse," she says.

All the members of the MSJ are very much connected to their Kerala roots. Sini hopes that someday, Kerala will abolish caste, even if it may not happen anytime soon. “Abolishing caste is not something we may see in our lifetime, but the work still needs to be done. The work of [people like] Dr. Ambedkar need to be taken forward. We are working to reach that place where at least one generation in the future may see it and live in a world where caste is abolished,” she says.

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