Indian-born Brooklyn author shines light on caste system

- A Brooklyn author has come a long way from being born a so-called untouchable in India's caste system. Sujatha Gidla has written a memoir about the discrimination and segregation of her youth. The book is about being born an untouchable and finding her voice and a sense of belonging in New York.  

She spoke to Fox 5 in the kind of conversation Brooklyn stoops were made for. Gidla said her stories aren't stories of shame anymore. She said her stories are worth telling and worth putting in a book. It is called Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India.

I was humbled to share a sliver of the afternoon with somebody who has endured so much. The book is her identity, her search for truth. It is a reminder of the power we each hold to shape our own circumstances despite unjust systems.

She said the questions started when I was 15. Tough questions that are quite frankly the kind of things you're not supposed to talk about, such as being a part of the minority Christian religion and why her family was considered lower than other people.

The caste system is set up like a ladder, with the "highest" and "purest" on the top. Gidla began to accept that was the way things were.

Beyond the color line, in America we talk about social mobility -- the ability to improve quality of life or class by hard work and opportunity.

In India, that doesn't exist. Gidla explained that you cannot change your caste by any means. "You're born into it and you die in it," she said. "If you're oppressed then you want an explanation for your oppression otherwise it really eats you."

Her newfound life is the product of good old-fashioned resilience, a belief system, and supplemented by the support of Christian missionaries, education, and government-mandated opportunities similar to affirmative action.

Raised in a system predicated on occupation and purity, Gidla ditched banking world of Wall Street where she was a software developer. For the last eight years, she has been an MTA subway conductor You can find her leading the R train. She loves the work and in particular she admires her co-workers, whom she calls very compassionate and diverse.

She came to the United States in 1991 as a 26-year-old. She acknowledged that she is not the same woman.

The book is doing well, especially in India. You know what that means.

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