American universities begin to recognize the ugly truth of the caste system

American colleges are beginning to recognize an unsavory but truly Indian experience: caste.

The University of California, Davis, is the first such public institution to codify the social system as a protected category as part of its anti-discrimination policy. In October, Colby College, a private institution in Maine, banned such differentiation on its campus. In November 2019, Brandeis University in Massachusetts made a similar decision.

The caste system is prevalent in Indian communities, largely – but not exclusively – those who practice Hinduism. It is an identity hierarchy, each of which is supposed to be born at each level. It perpetuates centuries of prejudice against those of the “lower” castes. Dalit groups are the most affected, facing strong bias even on campuses outside India.

Students of Dalit and other backward castes are regularly confronted with comments about skin color, the clothes one wears, and the general ridicule even of surnames, often seen as classic markers of life. caste identity.

“I’ve known castism my whole life and never expected to face it in Davis,” J Kaur, a student leader, said in a press release from social justice organization Equality Labs. “During my undergraduate career, I have faced many caste-related microaggressions, particularly in the South Asian and Sikh spaces.” Several other students echo this sentiment.

American universities increasingly recognize this prejudice as a milestone for students of South Asian descent, of whom approximately 2,000,000 study at such institutions. In fact, they are part of the largest communities of international students.

India, for its part, opposed steps taken by the United Nations to treat caste prejudice on par with racial discrimination.

Such social change through decree at the university level can eventually help workplaces rid themselves of social evil.

The caste problem in the United States

In June 2020, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a complaint against Cisco and two of its former managers for discriminating against a Dalit engineer. The two managers were Indians of the “upper caste”.

As a result, Equality Labs began receiving complaints of similar discrimination from tech companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and IBM, according to The Washington Post. The allegations included slurs and jokes, bullying, discriminatory hiring practices, prejudice in peer reviews and sexual harassment, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Equality Labs, told the daily.

“All the elements of a hostile workplace exist for caste-oppressed Americans in Silicon Valley, which is often referred to in these networks as ‘Agraharam Valley’, citing the part of an Indian village in which the Brahmins, or members of the dominant caste, reside, ”Soundararajan wrote separately in the newspaper in July 2020.

Rooted Castism

“The cycle begins in the ‘earliest’ Indian educational institutions, such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, where the dominant castes constitute the majority of teachers and students and where, as Professor Ajantha Subramanian writes, successes are awarded only on merit without caste recognition – based on structural advantages, ”Soundararajan wrote.

IITs are coveted engineering schools in India, where each headquarters receives hundreds of applications each year. IIT-Madras is often referred to as “Iyer Iyengar Technology – Iyer and Iyengar being the Brahmin castes of Tamil Nadu where IIT-Madras is located. The Brahmins occupy the first place in the caste hierarchy which constitutes the major part of Hindu society.

In April, an IIT-Kharagpur professor was filmed abusing students from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, calling them “bastards”. Professor Seema Singh went on a rampage at a special pre-conference for students admitted on reserve, which is a form of institutionalized affirmative action by the government.

Singh was fully aware that caste discrimination is a crime in India and can result in prison terms.

This article first appeared on Quartz.

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