The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) in Canada on Wednesday passed what is being described as a historic motion to address caste-based discrimination in schools there.
This is the first time a formal mechanism has been accepted in Canada to address caste discrimination.
Why the motion was introduced
The motion brought by Yalini Rajakulasingam was voted upon late on Wednesday evening, with 16 Trustees voting in favour and five against.
Rajakulasingham, the trustee for Scarborough North, said she brought the motion on February 8 after parents who identified as members of oppressed castes told her about bullying, harassment and slurs their children faced.
“We realized that even at [the TDSB’s] human rights office, there was no way to file a complaint under caste,” Rajakulasingham, whose parents migrated to Canada from Sri Lanka, said.
“It was being filed as either race or religion. And we know that caste is its own specific power structure. It doesn’t function like race. It is its own category,” she said.
What the motion says
According to the motion, there is a recorded rise in caste-based discrimination within the South Asian diaspora and in Toronto. It directs the school board to form a working group — composed of people from oppressed castes — that would define caste-based discrimination, lead curriculum development on caste-based discrimination, and support the professional development of TDSB staff.
The motion stipulates that the director of TDSB will “file an application with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) to request that they assess and provide a framework for addressing caste oppression in a public education context”.
It also recommends that caste-based discrimination as a system of power and oppression be included in the school board’s Multi-Year Strategic Plan when it is up for review.
The motion had faced opposition from some Hindu groups in Canada, which termed it Hinduphobic.
Seattle bans caste-based discrimination
Last month, Seattle became the first US city to ban caste-based discrimination after a vote by its city council.
The resolution moved by Kshama Sawant, an upper-caste Hindu, was approved by the Seattle City Council by six to one vote.
The ordinance adds “caste” to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinances.
Resolution Hinduphobic: opponents
This was also met with stiff opposition by Hindu groups that claimed they were against caste-based discrimination but said the resolution was Hinduphobic.
Niraj Antani, the first Hindu and Indian-American state senator in Ohio’s history, also opposed the resolution and said, “Caste discrimination simply doesn’t exist now. Adding it to their non-discrimination policy is Hinduphobic, and is a tool those that are anti-Hindu use to discriminate against Hindus in America, in India, and around the world.”
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