San Jose, California, USA – An organization representing nearly half a million university students in California, USA, has passed a resolution calling for a ban on caste-based discrimination, originally described by Dalit students, with rights groups calling the move “historic.”
Formerly identified as “untouchable”, the Dalits are located below the complex Hindu caste hierarchy and have faced socio-economic oppression for decades. India formally banned untouchability after the adoption of the constitution in 1950, but the practice continues among the South Asian community, mainly Hindus.
Last week, the Cal State Student Association (CSSA), the nation’s largest four-year public university system representing the 23 campuses of the California State University (CSU) system, passed the resolution by 22-2 votes at an online meeting, supporting the addition as a protection against discrimination.
The student body instructed the University Board of Trustees to add caste to the anti-discrimination policy of the system and to provide resources for better understanding of caste among its staff members.
“The current CSU policy prohibiting discrimination includes many identities associated with caste but does not specifically protect against caste-based discrimination,” the resolution said.
The proposal, citing a survey by Equality Labs, said 25 percent of Dalits in the United States have faced verbal or physical abuse based on their caste.
“One in three Dalit students has been discriminated against while studying in the United States, and two out of three have reported unfair treatment in the workplace in the United States,” the resolution added. Insulting jokes or comments in the country about caste-based experiences.
“All these racial inequalities have been embedded in all of South Africa’s top American institutions, and they have spread to significant South Asian immigrant mainstream American organizations in South America,” he said, noting that such discrimination has long been ignored by “American institutions.”
While observing incidents of discrimination by Dalits on campuses, the student body said the inclusion of caste in CSU’s anti-discrimination policy would reaffirm the school’s “commitment to diversity, equality and support for the most marginalized.”
Interestingly, the resolution was drafted by one of the upper caste students and supported by three students from different castes and religious groups.
Manmeet Singh Chahal, 20, a student at California Polytechnic State University and lead author of the resolution, told Al Jazeera: “It was the work of a collective inter-caste, inter-faith and multi-ethnic alliance.
“Dalit students testified there, supported by Sikh, Muslim and Hindu upper caste students, who also spoke in favor of passing the resolution,” Chahal said.
CSSA has become the first student body in the United States to pass a resolution on race in the statewide university system.
Last year, the University of Massachusetts-based Brandy became the first school to prevent discrimination on the basis of caste.
At Harvard University, the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, Davis is currently looking at issues of caste and discrimination by Dalit students on its campuses.
‘I cried when the resolution was passed’
Manu, a 25-year-old Indian-American Dalit who gave his first name, recently earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from CSU Sacramento, where he said he was often discriminated against by upper-caste students.
“Before they invited me to their study group, I was convinced that I was not a Dalit. Manu told Al Jazeera that I had to hide my caste and pretend to be a privileged nation so that they could not be evicted or discriminated against. “
He said many Dalit students would not report the incident because the caste was not part of the school’s anti-discrimination policy.
“This resolution will make them feel safe, even knowing that the school is aware of racism, so that they can get it if they need help,” he said.
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Who simply passed a resolution through the State Student Association (CSASA) to build the caste as a protected department! #Joybahim #Jaysavitri pic.twitter.com/CNM2FohKJW
– Equality Labs (Equality Labs) April 11, 2021
Prem Pariyar left Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, in June 2015 to escape caste atrocities after some members of an influential caste group brutally assaulted him and his family members. He flew to the United States and sought asylum.
With a dream of a better life, he enrolled in a postgraduate program at CSU East Bay Campus. Little did he know, however, that racial discrimination was very prevalent among the South Asian community in the United States as well.
“I thought America was the dream land for all and the land of educated people but I was wrong.
“Students from influential ethnic groups harassed, harassed, and embarrassed me. At the time, given my history of surviving racial violence and fearing immigration under the Trump administration, I did not feel safe to report, especially since my university did not recognize caste as a protected department, ”he said.
Pariyar believes that if the resolution is passed, a non-discriminatory environment for Dalit students will be ensured on the CSU campus, while it will be officially implemented by the university.
“I cried when the resolution was passed. Because it was personal. I have suffered racial discrimination on campus many times. But now I feel safe and secure. ”
‘Next Historical Next Step’
Various Dalit civil rights organizations across the United States have welcomed the passage of the resolution, saying it would make a huge difference to Dalit students’ confidence to pursue their interests on campus “freely and with confidence.”
“This resolution will help them explore their full potential because influential caste students and professors will no longer be able to intimidate them, secretly and subtly,” Kartikeyan Shanmugam, secretary of the Silicon Valley-based Ambedkar King Study Circle, told the Dalit community organization Al Jazeera.
Thenmoji Soundararajan, a Dalit American activist and executive director of Equality Labs, called the CSSA resolution a “historic next step in the fight for caste civil rights.”
“Our team has allegations of defamation of Dalit students, accommodation discrimination, sexual harassment and exclusion,” Soundarjan told Al Jazeera.
“This (resolution) is part of a national movement to protect the nation that protects the nation because the oppressed stand up for their rights and claim that the nation becomes a protected class across all American institutions.”
A CSU spokesman said the school was committed to a community free of discrimination and planned to discuss the resolution with its student body.
“We have not yet formally accepted the proposal, but will involve student leaders for further discussions in the near future,” Tony Mollah, the system’s director of public relations, told Al Jazeera.
The landmark resolution has raised hopes among Dalit students at other universities in the United States that student governments across the country could take similar steps.
“This would set a precedent for recognition as a form of racial discrimination,” Anubhav Singh, 32, an international research student at Tufts University, told Al Jazeera.
“Universities will also understand the struggles of Dalit applicants who dare to apply social, economic and structural inequalities in India to US universities.”
Anil Wagde, a member of the Ambedkar International Center (AIC), a Washington-based Dalit rights organization, said it was more important to pass a resolution in California in the wake of a pending lawsuit against Cisco Systems Inc. for racial discrimination. In a very similar situation.
Last year the California Fair Employment and Housing Department Cisco case For discriminating against an Indian-American employee because he was a Dalit
The employee was discriminated against by his upper-caste managers. When he went to complain against the treatment, the authorities retaliated by reducing his role.
The case has given new headlines to the debate over caste-based discrimination between national corporations and society. Last month, AIC also filed an Amicus Curio brief in the Cisco case.
“Student resolutions show that the situation is changing,” Wagde told Al Jazeera. “The day is not far when racism will be officially banned by the US government.”