The university system has over 23 campuses and eight off-campus centers, with over 4.85 lakh students as well as 55,000 faculty and staff.
The California State University system has now added caste as a protected category in its non-discrimination policy. The Cal State University System is one of the largest university systems in the United States, with more than 23 campuses and eight off-campus centers. In total, the campuses have 4.85 lakh students, over 55,000 faculty and staff. The university’s updated no-discrimination policy, which included race and ethnicity in its criteria, now also incorporates caste-based discrimination.
In April 2021, the Cal State Student Association had passed a resolution to add caste to the anti-discrimination policy, making it the first student body in the United States to do so.
Equality Labs, a Dalit civil rights organization that helped with the process, welcomed Cal State’s decision and said it looked forward to working with the CSU system to implement this. Equality Labs Executive Director Thenmozhi Soundararajan called it an unprecedented, historic and very welcome victory.
Speaking to TNM, Thenmozhi said, “I think the organizers came from all walks of life because caste in the United States impacts immigrants from all South Asian countries, and that is a interfaith phenomenon. It’s just incredible vindication because the movement has faced a lot of denial and harassment, trying to be able to share the experiences of why we needed legal redress,” she said. .
Since the news became public, she said there has been an outpouring of support. Students from across the United States have reached out to them to bring caste equity to their campuses, she said, as well as to community institutions and businesses.
Lead organizer Prem Pariyar, a Nepalese Dalit social work student at CSU East Bay, said the recognition was personal and historic for him. He told TNM it is a great achievement for everyone involved. “I have experienced caste discrimination in every sphere of my life, even in the United States. Many caste-oppressed students, faculty, and staff on CSU campuses will now feel safer and will report any incidents of harassment or discrimination by students and colleagues of the dominant caste,” he said in a statement.
Talking about how this campaign came about, Prem said that when caste was first added as a protected category in the social work department of the college where he was studying, other oppressed caste students were unwilling to come forward because they feared for their safety. . “They didn’t want to expose their true caste identity. They didn’t want to lose their circle of friends after exposing their caste identity,” he said, adding that when this campaign started however, they supported it. “When they told me that [they would support], I was very committed to fighting for it. There is a void and someone has to fill that void. Silence is not the solution. We are in the 21st century and educated people (students) do not feel safe talking about their lived experiences. As I fight for caste protection, I fight for my human rights. I fight for all Dalit students and caste oppressed communities who experience discrimination and violence. I thought the protected class allowed for protections against discrimination based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, disability, nationality and other identities, but why not caste? Caste is the oldest form of oppression,” he said.
Both Prem and Thenmozhi said the focus must now be on implementation; Prem added that the CSU system must have an action plan for effective implementation.
“Caste-oppressed students have intergenerational traumas and fears since childhood. The CSU system needs to understand this and it is not easy to expose them in front of their own friends as caste oppressed students. They need to have enough support and feel protected from the administration of the CSU system,” he said, adding that culturally competent service providers and staff can help create a safe space.
Indians have – for years – been the second largest group of international students in America, second only to China. Moreover, while American Indians make up 1.2% of the population, they are still influential.
A 2018 survey by Equality Labs in the US found that of the 1,500 respondents, 52% of Dalits and 25% of Shudras feared their caste would be “exposed”, compared to 1% of Brahmins. He said 60% of Dalits experienced caste-based discrimination and two out of three said they were treated unfairly in the workplace.
Read: When caste follows you abroad: ostracism, discrimination among South Asians in the United States
In 2020, a landmark lawsuit was filed in which the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Cisco and former company executives after an Indian-American Dalit employee alleged that they had been discriminated against on the basis of caste.
In 2021, a lawsuit was filed against HCL America, a branch of the Indian company, by a former employee of Indian descent, who alleged that he had been discriminated against and unlawfully dismissed because of his caste.
Read: Caste is part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem: Equality Labs director on Cisco case
Regarding the impact of the CSU system adding caste as a protected category, Thenmozhi said they were all part of the same civil rights movement. “It’s really a moment where we see Dalits saying that we don’t want to suffer in silence anymore. We want to have our rights due to us under the law, and we want to be in workplaces, universities, and community institutions, where we don’t face discrimination, harassment, assault, etc. We get support from those institutions because they don’t want those civil rights obligations either,” she said.
She added that the academic movement is deeply connected to the conversation about caste in tech, as it highlights the fact that the diaspora brings caste wherever it goes. “A lot of our new home countries can’t afford not to give us our due process rights, and that’s why they’re taking action. I think we’re only going to see more institutions add caste as a protected category,” she said.
Now, more and more classes of people are going to file complaints against people who are casteists because they can’t get away with it anymore, she said. “It is no longer in the shadows. The silence has been broken and we do not go into the closet. We will now only move forward. Also, I think it creates a new paradigm for South Asian identity where we don’t hide anything. We don’t lie about things. We don’t keep pain in our hearts. Rather, we go through the discomfort of coming forward and reclaiming our humanity collectively.
Read: Explained: The New Jersey Temple Case, Labor Trafficking and Caste Exploitation