(NEW YORK) – PEN America stands in solidarity with North Atlantic Books in condemning the egregious online abuse directed at Dalit author Thenmozhi Soundararajan, in retaliation for her writing and advocacy, along with threats against her colleagues and allies.

Soundararajan and her organization, Equality Labs, based in California, are committed to fighting against caste-based discrimination. Her book The Trauma of Caste, published by North Atlantic Books in November 2022, is a call to action for Dalit-rights and caste liberation worldwide, from South Asia to the United States. Soundararajan has been a tireless advocate in this cause. She and Equality Labs supported the historic Seattle bill to end caste-based discrimination, which was passed in February 2023, and are now advocating for passage of a bill to make caste a protected category in California.

“The attacks against author Thenmozhi Soundararajan and her allies are intended to drive voices from the public square and prevent them from being heard, which stifles free expression and undermines equity,” said Viktorya Vilk, director of digital safety and free expression at PEN America. “Coordinated hate and harassment campaigns are part of systematic efforts to intimidate and silence writers, journalists, and human rights advocates around the world—especially those who belong to groups already marginalized for their identity. It is imperative that our online—and offline—spaces are accessible to all voices.”

While caste discrimination is most prominent in South Asia, it also exists in the US. A 2016 Equality Labs survey of 1500 South Asians in the US revealed that 67% of Dalits who responded reported being discriminated against in schools, their workplaces, and places of business, because of their caste. In 2020, for example, California regulators sued Cisco Systems, after a Dalit Indian engineer faced caste discrimination at the company.

Soundararajan, her colleagues at Equality Labs, and the elected officials and legislators fighting for caste equity in the United States have been subjected to relentless hate and harassment campaigns. Cyber mobs have flooded their online channels with messages that are misogynistic as well as posting smears, spam, gendered disinformation, and hateful anti-Dalit language, islamophobia, and death threats. After California State Senator Aisha Wahab authored the first statewide bill seeking to protect caste equity, she received an onslaught of threatening phone calls, which then escalated to physical confrontation, with people showing up to her office and shouting slurs and insults at her and her staff.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org