Over the past months the campaign to end caste discrimination in key South Asian diaspora communities has gathered momentum. Anti-caste groups and activists in the US, Canada, UK and Australia have carried out targeted advocacy and made significant progress towards the goal of ensuring protections and legal recourse for those experiencing caste discrimination in South Asian communities globally.
U.S. Milestones: From Seattle to California
Seattle, in February 2023, became the first U.S. city to officially ban caste-based discrimination. The ordinance passed by the Seattle City Council equates caste discrimination with other forms of prejudice such as race, gender, and religion. The movement was propelled by the disturbing revelations of caste-based harassment in a tech company that sparked off intense debate and activism.
Columbia University, one of the prestigious Ivy League institutions, was also one of the latest universities to follow suit by adding caste as a protected category under its non-discrimination policy, an imperative step in creating a more inclusive environment for students. Columbia here joins a number of other US universities to have recently banned caste discrimination in their institutions including California State University (CSU) System, Brown University, Harvard University, and Brandeis.
Building on this momentum, the State of California passed revolutionary anti-caste legislation. The Bill, which was introduced by Senator Aisha Wahab in the Senate legislature, was unanimously passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 25 and the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 5. This was widely celebrated by activists and organisations advocating to end caste discrimination. The legislation is a significant victory for workplace diversity as the bill offers unprecedented protection for individuals facing caste discrimination.
Canada’s Progressive Steps
On a similar note, the Canadian city of Burnaby has also adopted measures to combat caste discrimination. In a landmark move, Burnaby included caste as a protected category in its equity policy. This not only offers legal protection to the victims of caste discrimination but also sheds light on the presence of caste-based bias in the Canadian landscape, a subject that has been under-discussed. The momentum for this was built by anti-caste discrimination collectives in Canada pushing for action to end caste discrimination in their communities.
Australia’s Battle Against Caste Prejudice
Australia, meanwhile, is also grappling with the growing menace of caste discrimination. The issue, largely unnoticed until recent years, has begun receiving attention due to the tireless efforts of anti-caste activists. These advocates have raised their voices against the prejudice and social exclusion faced by lower-caste individuals in the South Asian diaspora.
A Global Endeavour
Addressing caste discrimination requires global attention and cooperation, also because the problem is not confined to South Asia but travels wherever there is a significant South Asian community. Moreover, the intersectionality of caste with gender and religion, complicates the situation and demands a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the issue. The emergence of Hindu supremacist groups in the UK, has been flagged as another major concern by many of the activists involved in this work. These groups attempt to argue that caste is a cultural construct and does not need to be addressed through legislation, thus impeding the fight against caste discrimination.
However, these challenges have not subdued the commitment to end caste discrimination. On the contrary, they have further fueled the determination of activists and organisations worldwide.
In California, a petition advocating for a ban on caste discrimination garnered significant public support, further solidifying the public resolve in California to eradicate this deeply rooted prejudice.
The fight against caste discrimination is complex, but the developments in the U.S, Canada, and Australia signify a step in the right direction. While there is still a long journey ahead, it’s clear that the wheels of change have been set in motion.