Tuesday, April 24

Caste Discrimination in the United States

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Last week, the research and advocacy organization Equality Labs released a report on Caste in the United States. The national survey that formed the basis of this new report was, according to Equality Labs, the first comprehensive look at caste identity and discrimination’s prominence within diasporic South Asian communities in the States.

Equality Labs describes itself as “a South Asian organization that uses community research, socially engaged art, and technology to end the oppression of caste apartheid, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and religious intolerance.” In the past, its members have been involved in other prominent events like the battle over portrayals of South Asia, Hinduism and oppressed communities in California’s school textbooks.

The survey, a 47-question online questionnaire, was distributed via contacts with community organizations across the country. Ultimately, out of 1534 respondents, 1200 respondents’ answers were usable for data analysis. It used 5 broad caste categories–Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, and Dalit, with which respondents could identify. Adivasi [indigenous]respondents also participated in the survey, but the number of Adivasis polled was too small to allow for statistical analysis.

The report noted that “Dalit and Shudra [a term used for other lower-caste groups]migrations are steadily increasing with Dalits reporting the most recent migration.” In comparison, the generations of immigrants that were socially mobile enough to make it to the United States in the decades soon after the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act were primarily from upper caste groups.

The report asserts that Dalit and Shudra folks have become more economically, and hence internationally, mobile thanks to the longstanding reservation policies in India that serve as a form of affirmative action for historically oppressed communities like lower-caste and Adivasi communities. However, it has not followed that these migrants, especially Dalits, are able to escape casteist discrimination in their new homes.

On the contrary, the report has found that caste discrimination is pervasive in the US. For instance, 41% of Dalits reported experiencing discrimination in K-12 and higher education schooling due to their caste, while only 3% of Brahmins reported the same. An even higher percentage, 67%, of Dalits stated that they had been mistreated at their place of work; 12% of Shudras report the same. The report also found that Dalits in the diaspora “feel unwelcome” to places of worship across religions, including Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras, churches, and mosques–as has historically been the case and continues to happen in South Asian countries.

Distressingly, 26% of Dalit respondents reported being physically assaulted based on their caste while 0% of respondents from all other caste groupings said they had been attacked.

Equality Labs provided several recommendations for institutions of learning, workplaces, community organizations and places of worship based on the survey results. They noted that it is absolutely crucial for educators and employers to understand the dynamics of casteism in the diaspora so they they can protect students and workers, as well as provide safe spaces for marginalized individuals and diversity trainings for workplace staff. For South Asian organizations and religious institutions, they emphasized that leadership must acknowledge caste and also make it clear that casteism has no place in the community through their rhetoric and actions.

Caste discrimination is not a problem that is restricted to Hindu diasporas, nor does it manifest in exactly the same ways in every community. It is undeniable that no matter on what scale or level of intensity casteism occurs, it is always shameful and unacceptable. While Equality Labs readily admits that their methodological approach can be improved for future efforts, this survey is an important first step in magnifying the issue and forwarding concrete proposals to combat caste apartheid now and for future generations.

Read the full report here.

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