Caste discrimination is no longer India's internal issue. It is becoming a global phenomenon and the speed at which it is spreading across the world, India will be known for being a caste-ridden society more than any other achievement, should it ever succeed.
Thanks to the digitalisation of media, caste discrimination is getting exposed in different parts of the world. It is undoubtedly an issue in many foreign countries, and governments are finding it difficult to apply their existing laws to deal with it.
Foreigners don’t understand the phenomena of the caste virus. In the United States, however, it has become a hot topic for quite some time now.
Before elaborating on it, it is important to acknowledge that caste discrimination is prevalent even among the highly educated circles in India.
We should no longer be under the illusion that it vanishes due to education and urbanism.
Seattle, CISCO, and the Migration of Caste
The issue of caste within the country was exemplified most recently by the outrageous case of Darshan Solanki, a first-year IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Bombay student who died by suicide with the institute denying any role of caste discrimination. Solanki’s sister has claimed that her brother had mentioned “caste-related issues faced by some students at IIT Bombay and that he had himself experienced.”
33 students belonging to SC (Scheduled Caste), ST (Scheduled Tribe), and OBC (Other Backward Classes) communities, have died by suicide at IITs since 2018. In the same period, NITs (National Institute of Technology) and IIMs (Indian Institute of Management) across the country have registered 28 suicide cases of students, the majority of whom belonged to the SC, ST, and OBC communities.
The disease that is caste has been spread by educated people who migrate abroad for work. On 21 February earlier this year, Seattle became the first city in the United States to ban discrimination on the basis of caste after an ordinance was passed by the City Council. It was introduced by Council Member Kshama Sawant. Before this, in December 2021, Harvard University became the first Ivy League university to recognise caste-based discrimination.
At CISCO, a multinational corporation based at San Jose, California, caste discrimination has made big news. This is due to a case consisting of two men who were classmates at an IIT over two decades ago, a Brahmin, and a Dalit. Twenty years later, both of them made it to Silicon Valley.
The California government lawsuit details the manner in which the Brahmin “outed” the other man’s caste at work, and told colleagues that his former classmate was a Dalit who had not made it to the general merit list at the IIT, implying that his success was only due to India’s affirmative action programme.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing had filed a lawsuit against another employee of CISCO on the grounds that a Dalit employee had been severely discriminated against by his ‘upper’ caste supervisors. The lawsuit is historic in its recognition of caste discrimination practiced in America. CISCO's position, by filing the demurrer, is that California law does not prohibit caste discrimination.
While the US does not specifically have laws against caste discrimination, the California government cited sections of the historic Civil Rights Act, which had emerged out of the African-American struggle against segregation.
Meanwhile, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) also filed an intervention in the case earlier this year, on the grounds that caste had “nothing to do with Hinduism." It is to be noted that this organisation is an American offshoot of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The lawsuit has ignited advocacy in US companies, universities, and other institutions calling for more guidelines and training related to potential caste-based discriminatory practices.
Where There's Caste, There's Discrimination
Not only in the US, caste discrimination exists in Canadian schools as well. In Britain too, quite a few caste discrimination cases have been reported and the British Parliament has had detailed discussions on the same. Those days are not far off when a legislation to prohibit caste discrimination will be tabled, given that Section 9 of the Equality Act, 2010, as amended, requires the government to introduce secondary legislation to make caste discrimination a form of race discrimination.
In the US, there is now an anti-caste coalition driven by powerful interfaith and inter-caste organisations. These include Equality Labs, the Ambedkar Association of North America, the Coalition of Seattle Indians, and the Indian American Muslim Council.
Currently, nearly 25 lakh Indians are living in the US and more than 900 Hindu temples exist. Priests and seers have to be from a particular caste. If there is a caste system, then discrimination is bound to happen. In the years to come, caste will accompany migration to all countries and discrimination will become an inseparable part of it.
If India was enslaved, it was due to the division of people along the lines of caste. The situation is not too different, currently. Caste-based inequalities hamper production and efficiency. Our social harmony and the quality of politics are governed by our social system that is defined by caste. As long as this social system is in place, caste will continue to be reflected in governance and society.
(Udit Raj is a former BJP MP who now belongs to the Congress Party. He has previously worked for the Indian Revenue Service. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)