Thenmozhi Soundararajan is a prominent Indian-American Dalit rights activist based in United States of America. She is also a transmedia storyteller, song writer, hip hop musician and a technologist.
Thenmozhi's parents were doctors and migrated to United States of America in the 1970s from a small village in Tamil Nadu, India. Her father is a doctor and her mother was the first woman from her family to get a college education. the Thenmozhi was in fifth standard when she learnt that she belongs to the Dalit community, when she was reading about how Bhopal gas tragedy affected a group of people called 'Untouchables'. Upon a conversation with her mother, she came to know that she is a Dalit too. She openly came out as a Dalit by making a film on caste and violence against women as a part of her college thesis at UC Berkeley. The release of her film and her coming out as a Dalit publicly had many consequences. While fellow Dalit friends secretly confided in her about their Dalit identity, she also faced discrimination from Indian professors in her campus, who refused to advice her on projects.
Thenmozhi is a filmmaker, transmedia artist and a storyteller. She is also the Executive Director of Third World Majority, a women of color Media/Tech Justice training and organizing institution based in Oakland. She is also a co-founder of the Media Justice Network and Third World Majority is one of the network’s national anchor organizations. In that context she has worked with over 300 community organizations across the United States.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan found her calling in the art of storytelling. She used this art to speak about casteism within Indian diaspora. She worked with Marvin Etizioni, a bassist on her debut blues album Broken People, which was a collection of liberation songs about people belonging to the Black and Dalit community. Her essay and a photo series in the Outlook magazine about her Dalit experience in United States of America met with a huge response from people. She received many messages of support coupled with death threats on social media. She then began to create an American map of Dalit community and reached out to them, thereby facilitating the creation of a diaspora community in process.
Dalit women fight
Thenmozhi Soundararajan has been painstakingly documenting Dalit Women Fight, a movement led by Dalit women protesting against caste related sexual violence and other human rights violations against them. As a part of this project, she creates and translates stories across platforms that includes social media posts, professional photography, security training for its participants among others.
California school textbooks campaign
Since the end of 2015, the California State Board of Education had begun its drive to revise its curriculum for purposes of diversity. Several public hearings were conducted with different groups to solicit suggestions. One of the leading debates was centred around educating the sixth and seventh graders in the state of California about the history of South Asia. The Hindu American Foundation argued against the impact of the caste system, and demanded that the textbooks reflect the same. Rejecting their claims, South Asian Histories For All (SAHFA) (representing the larger umbrella of organisations and groups across religion, caste, nationality and gender) participated actively in these hearings. Thenmozhi Soundararajan was one of SAHFA's leading voices. Their fight finally culminated with vindictaion of SAHFA's stance as California education officials approved a curriculum that doesn’t erase caste from history and social science textbooks for sixth and seventh grade students.
Dalit History Month
She has also been actively involved in the curation and creation of Dalit History Month, a radical history project.