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Harvard Adds Caste Bias Protections for Dalit Students Facing Discrimination

25 percent of Dalits in the US report having faced verbal or physical assault based on their caste.

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After months of negotiations, Harvard University has added caste as a protected category to its graduate student union contract for all graduate and undergraduate student workers, making the Ivy League school the first to have caste as a protected category in its non-discrimination clause for unionised student workers, news agency PTI reported.

Stating that the decision will impact more than 4,900 student workers at Harvard, Equality Labs, said that with this addition Harvard joins UC Davis, Colby College, Brandeis University, and several other universities, where students, faculty, and staff have faced caste-based discrimination.

Equality Labs said in a statement, "Driven in partnership with caste-oppressed community members, this win is part of a larger national movement for caste equity that aims to protect caste-oppressed students, workers, and communities across the country”, PTI reported.

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Executive director at Equality Labs, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, said the courage of the Harvard Graduate Student Union and the inter-caste and interfaith coalition of community and students who helped make this win possible is inspiring.

As per research by Equality Labs, an organisation dedicated to ending white supremacy and casteism, revealed that twenty-five percent of Dalits in the US report having faced verbal or physical assault based on their caste. Further, the study found that one in three Dalit students also reported experiencing prejudice that affected their education.

Other Findings:

  • Two out of three Dalits surveyed reported being treated unfairly at their workplace.

  • 60 percent of Dalits report experiencing caste-based derogatory jokes or comments.

  • 40 percent of Dalits and 14 percent of Shudra respondents were made to feel unwelcome at their place of worship.

‘Well-being of Caste Oppressed Students Matter’: Dalit Harvard Alum

Raj Muthu, a Dalit alumni of Harvard University, stressed that though the win is small, it is a critical step in ensuring that there is at least some recourse for students like him who have experienced the deeply rooted hierarchical system that has transcended overseas. Muthu added that the well-being of caste-oppressed students matter.

Muthu was quoted as saying, "From derogatory comments about the intellect of oppressed caste students, to proudly narrating their activism against affirmative action in India prior to their admission into Harvard to a complete cultural monopoly of South Asian/India celebrations, the deep sense of alienation, humiliation, and social exclusion I experienced made me constantly vigilant and worried about the consequences of being outed as a Dalit in Harvard's South Asian circles”, PTI reported.

(With inputs from PTI)

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