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Bid to ‘silence Dalits’: Students slam faculty against ‘caste’ in US varsity discrimination policy

New Delhi: After over 80 Indian-origin professors at California State University (CSU) in the US opposed its move to add caste as a ‘protected’ category under its anti-discrimination policy, students and alumni of the institution have hit back, alleging that the professors were “attempting to silence Dalit voices”. 

With the addition of ‘caste’ as a sub-category under ‘race or ethnicity’, discrimination against a student, employee or member of the faculty based on their caste is an offence under CSU policy.

Prem Periyar, a Nepali Dalit and CSU alumni who has been leading the movement to introduce caste as a ‘protected’ category in the university’s policy, told ThePrint that it was “disheartening” to see professors of South Asian decent object to the same.

“During the meeting of the academic senate, when the draft resolution was being discussed, a professor of South Asian heritage objected saying that this is an Indian issue and was not relevant in the US. How is it an Indian issue if I am being ostracised here, on campus, for being a Dalit student?” he added.

The 30-year-old further said: “When I left Nepal in 2015 to come to the US, I thought I had left my caste identity behind. This letter is nothing but an attempt to silence Dalit voices.”

Krystal Raynes, a 21-year-old undergraduate student at CSU Bakersfield, told ThePrint over phone that attempts have been made by Asian professors to “gaslight” Dalit students. 

“In 2021, when the resolution was proposed to include caste in the anti-discrimination policy, a large number of people spoke out against it. It was clear in their comments that they were trying to gaslight Dalit students by saying, ‘Caste oppression doesn’t exist’, and, ‘Adding caste to the policy would be anti-Hindu’. The public comments against the resolution further cemented the fact that caste oppression happens in America, and CSU students must have specific policy protections,” she added.

Manmit Singh, a student at San Francisco State University, told ThePrint over phone: “These threats and intimidation tactics not only expose the impunity with which these caste bigots act, but also indicate the necessity for caste protections.”

The California State Student Association (CSSA) had passed a resolution to add ‘caste’ as a category to the CSU anti-discrimination policy in April last year. The CSSA describes itself as “the single recognised voice” for more than 4.8 lakh students at the university. 

However, in an open letter, more than 80 Indian-origin professors of CSU had called the move “a misguided overreach” and demanded that the Collective Bargaining Agreement  — a legal contract between the students’ union and the university — be approved “only after removal of the discriminatory insertion of ‘caste’ as an additional category”.

CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro, had in an earlier statement said, “I commend the incredible work and dedication of the students, employees and other partners whose efforts ensure that our policies align with our bold aspirations.”

Also Read: Uttarakhand Dalit cook ‘fired over caste’ files case against upper caste parents, seeks apology

Support pours in from other universities, unions

Several universities and unions have expressed solidarity with the movement, spearheaded by the CSSA and Ambedkarite civil rights organisation, Equality Labs. 

In a 24 January letter to CSU Chancellor and trustees, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance a national, non-profit organisation working in the interest of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) workers had extended its support and thanked the university for “showing courage” and “standing with caste oppressed workers”. 

The California Trade Justice Coalition, an alliance of labour unions, had also written to the CSU authorities the same day, extending its support and criticising the “small group of faculty and allied organisations who are working to overturn democratic union processes”. 

Ruvani Fonseka, assistant professor at the San Jose State University School of Social Work, had in a 24 January letter signed by 460 professors of the university, stated: “As a caste-privileged Sri Lankan-American woman of Sinhala-Buddhist descent and a CFA member, I support the addition of caste to the antidiscrimination statement in the tentative agreement… the inclusion of caste is an important move towards equality and nondiscrimination for some of the most vulnerable members of the CSU community.”

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: Horses to helicopters, moustache to libraries — Dalit pride in Rajasthan has new wings

Source: The Print

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