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How Dalit students face caste discrimination in America too?

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Ground Report | New Delhi: Dalit Students caste discrimination; After over 80 Indian-origin professors at California State University (CSU) in the US protested their move to add caste as a ‘protected’ category as part of an anti-discrimination policy, students and alumni of the institute alleged that the professors have alleged was trying to ‘suppress the voice of Dalits’

Dalit Students caste discrimination

Dalits, formerly called “untouchables”, are at the bottom of South Asia’s complex caste hierarchy and have faced socioeconomic oppression at the hands of privileged castes, especially in India, for centuries.

The caste system has denied access to education and employment to Dalits and less privileged castes throughout South Asia. India introduced “quotas” in universities and government jobs as part of its affirmative action plan for oppressed communities.

“Society needs to understand the gravity of caste discrimination,” said Prem Pariar, who earned a master’s degree in social work from California State University East Bay in 2021, leading the fight for caste protection in the CSU system. “People are getting killed. People are being raped in the name of caste.

Pariar said that when he speaks about his experiences of caste discrimination, many people do not understand. He has experienced discrimination as a Dalit – one of the most oppressed classes in the caste system sometimes referred to as “The Untouchables” – when he introduced himself to a pair of Nepali-speaking students.

Regularly discriminated and insulted

According to a study by Equality Labs, an Ambedkarite South Asian organisation one in three American Dalit students report experiencing discrimination during their education, with 25% saying they had faced verbal or physical assault because of their caste.

Neha, a 37-year-old Indian Dalit who goes by her given name, graduated from CSU Northridge in 2014, where she said she was regularly discriminated against and insulted.

She recalls how the Indian students on campus were “desperate” to learn about her caste. She said that one of her friends from a privileged caste stopped talking to her when she found out about her caste, which was later followed by her exclusion from group projects.

“This was the reason why we fought to have protection for caste-oppressed students,” she Neha said. “This is a victory for civil rights. Now no student has to face the fears I went through.”

She is happy that California State University (CSU) added race to its anti-discrimination policy earlier this month. CSU is the largest four-year public university in the US, with 23 campuses with more than 480,000 students. CSU joins a growing number of American institutions that have recognized racial discrimination, including Harvard University and the Democratic Party of California.

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Opposition by Hindu groups

In a letter, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a right-wing group, castigated the CSU system for implementing an “ethnically antagonistic policy” and said it was “arbitrary and unnecessary”. The group said it is considering legal avenues to get the decision rescinded.

“The addition of caste is a misguided overreach given the existence of comprehensive policies which already protect against various forms of discrimination,” “We cannot but oppose the unique risk that CSU’s move puts on us as they add a category that is only associated with people of Indian descent, such as myself and thousands of other faculty and students in the CSU system. It is going to create divisions where they simply do not exist.”

Dr. Praveen Sinha, Professor of Accountancy at California State University

There are more than 600 Cal State faculty of Indian and South Asian origin who would be rendered vulnerable should the collective bargaining agreement be passed as currently written. 

“We’ve been working closely with concerned faculty since we were approached in December of last year. We will be filing Freedom of Information and State Public Records Act requests on their behalf to investigate how this discriminatory clause made it into the collective bargaining agreement and helping them explore all legal avenues to protect their rights as employees in the CSU system,” stated Suhag Shukla, Esq. “It’s simply unfathomable how system-wide leaders and a faculty union, which is contractually obligated to protect and represent all of its members regardless of their background, could negotiate a clause that will discriminate against faculty of a particular background or faith, especially where existing laws and policies already provide redress.”

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