California student body calls for ban on caste discrimination | Education News

San Jose, California, United States – An association representing nearly half a million college students in California, United States, passed a resolution calling for a ban on caste-based discrimination primarily faced by Dalit students, groups of defense of rights qualifying this decision as “historic”.

Once called “untouchables,” Dalits sit at the bottom of the complex Hindu caste hierarchy and have faced socio-economic oppression for decades. India officially banned untouchability when it adopted its constitution in 1950, but the practice continues in South Asian communities, mostly Hindu.

Last week, the Cal State Student Association (CSSA), the nation’s largest four-year public university system representing 23 campuses in the California State University (CSU) system, passed the resolution with 22 to 0 votes in an online meeting, supporting the addition. caste as a category protected against discrimination.

The student body has asked the University Board of Trustees to add caste to the system’s anti-discrimination policy and provide resources for its staff to better understand caste.

“The current CSU policy prohibiting discrimination includes many caste-related identities, but does not specifically protect against caste-based discrimination,” the resolution says.

The resolution cites an Equality Labs survey that found 25% of Dalits reported experiencing verbal or physical assault because of their caste in the United States.

“One in three Dalit students report experiencing discrimination while studying in the United States, two in three Dalit respondents said they have been treated unfairly at their workplace in the United States,” the resolution said, adding that 60% some Dalits have claimed to have suffered caste cases. jokes or derogatory comments in the country.

“All of these inequalities associated with caste status have become entrenched in all major American South Asian institutions and extend to mainstream American institutions that have large populations of South Asian immigrants,” he said, noting that such discrimination “has long been neglected by American institutions”.

While learning about incidents of discrimination faced by Dalits on campuses, the student association said adding caste to CSU’s anti-discrimination policy would further reaffirm the school’s commitment to diversity, equity and support for the most systemically marginalized.

Interestingly, the resolution was drafted by an upper caste student and supported by three other students from different racial and religious groups.

“This was a joint inter-caste, interfaith, multiracial work,” Manmit Singh Chahal, 20, a California Polytechnic State University student and lead author of the resolution told Al Jazeera.

“There were Dalit students who testified, supported by upper caste Sikh, Muslim and Hindu students, who also spoke out in favor of passing the resolution,” said Chahal.

The CSSA became the first student body in the United States to pass a caste resolution in a statewide university system.

Last year, Massachusetts-based Brandeis University became the first school to outlaw caste discrimination.

Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of California at Davis are also currently studying the caste and discrimination issues facing Dalit students on their campuses.

‘I cried when the resolution was passed’

Manu, a 25-year-old Native American Dalit who bears her first name, recently graduated in biology from CSU Sacramento, where she said she frequently faces discrimination from upper-caste students.

“They made sure I wasn’t Dalit before they invited me to their study groups. I had to hide my caste and pretend to be a privileged caste to avoid being ostracized or discriminated against, ”Manu told Al Jazeera.

She said many Dalit students would not continue to report the incidents because caste was not part of the school’s anti-discrimination policy.

“This resolution will make them feel more secure knowing that the school is aware of casteism so that if they need support they can have it,” she said.

Prem Pariyar left Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, in June 2015 to escape caste atrocities after members of dominant caste groups brutally assaulted him and his family members. He flew to the United States and applied for asylum.

With dreams of a better life, he enrolled in a postgraduate program at the CSU East Bay campus. But he was unaware that caste discrimination was also widespread among South Asian communities in the United States.

“I thought America was a country of dreams for all and the country of educated people. But I was wrong, ”Pariyar, 37, a second-year master’s student at CSU, East Bay Campus, told Al Jazeera.

“I have been intimidated, harassed and embarrassed by students from dominant caste groups. At that time, given my history as a survivor of caste violence and also because of the fear as an immigrant under the Trump administration, I did not feel safe to report, especially because my university did not recognize caste as a protected category, “he said.

Pariyar believes that adopting the resolution would ensure a non-discriminatory environment for Dalit students on CSU campuses, when it is formally implemented by the university.

“I cried when the resolution was passed. Because it was personal. I had been the victim of caste discrimination several times on campus. But now I feel safe and protected.

‘Historic next step’

Various Dalit civil rights organizations across the United States have welcomed the adoption of the resolution, saying it will bring enormous change to Dalit students by giving them the confidence to pursue their campus interests “freely and in complete confidence”.

“This resolution will help them explore their full potential, as now they can no longer be intimidated, secretly and subtly by the dominant caste students and teachers,” Karthikeyan Shanmugam, secretary of Ambedkar King Study Circle, a Silicon-based company Valley. Dalit community organization, told Al Jazeera.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan, an American Dalit activist and executive director of Equality Labs, called the CSSA resolution “the historic next step” in the battle for caste civil rights.

“Our team has had reports of Dalit students being subjected to insults, housing discrimination, sexual harassment and exclusion,” Soundarajan told Al Jazeera.

“This (resolution) is part of a national caste protection movement that is sweeping the nation as caste oppressed people stand up for their rights and demand that caste become a protected category in all American institutions,” he said. she declared.

A spokesperson for CSU said the school is committed to a community without discrimination and plans to hold a discussion with its student association about the resolution.

“We have not yet officially received the proposal, but we will engage student leaders for further discussion in the near future,” Toni Molle, director of public affairs for the system, told Al Jazeera.

Prem Pariyar from Nepal holds a sign calling for an end to caste discrimination at California State University on the East Bay campus [Laxmi Tikhatri/Al Jazeera]

The landmark resolution also raised hope among Dalit students at other U.S. universities that similar steps can also be taken by student governments across the country.

“This will set a precedent for casteism recognized as a form of discrimination,” said Anubhav Singh, 32, an international studies student at Tufts University in Al Jazeera.

“Universities will also understand the struggle of Dalit candidates who brave social, economic and structural discrimination in India to apply to US universities.”

Anil Wagde, a member of the Ambedkar International Center (AIC), a Dalit rights organization based in Washington, DC, said passing a resolution in California was of greater importance in the context of an ongoing lawsuit against Cisco Systems Inc for caste discrimination. in the same state.

Last year, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing Cisco continued for discriminating against a Native American employee because he was a Dalit.

The employee was discriminated against by his upper caste leaders. When he complained about the treatment, the bosses responded by reducing his role.

The case grabbed national headlines, renewing the debate over caste discrimination in American business and society. Last month, AIC also filed an amicus curiae brief in the Cisco case.

“The students’ resolve shows that things are changing,” Wagde told Al Jazeera. “The day is not far off when casteism will be officially banned by the US government.”

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