According to South Asian Dalit Adivasi Network, the anti-caste discrimination policy will encourage marginalised communities to “bravely come out in their identities” in their workplaces and communities.
ON October 27, South Asian Dalit Adivasi Network (SADAN), Canada, issued a laudatory statement on Ontario Human Rights Commission’s newly issued policy position oncaste discrimination in the province.
According to the policy, the human rights commission recognised caste-based discrimination under the 1962Ontario Human Rights Code.
In their statement, SADAN stated: “It is a landmark policy that emerges from the ongoing advocacy and resistance to caste violence by caste-oppressed communities and our movement for caste equity around the world.”
About the policy
SADAN terms this policy as critical to institutionalising procedures and remedying to “combat the pervasive casteism” that exists especially across the Indian and South Asian diaspora.
“We are thankful to the Ontario Human Rights Commission for listening to us and asserting decisively that caste oppression is a problem in Canadian society and needs to be formally addressed so that there is no longer a lack of clarity related to the caste claims of discrimination,” the statement reads.
As per SADAN’s statement, the policy captures a non-exhaustive list of caste makers built from the evidence of caste-oppressed people.
Further, the policy specifically notes the “underlying notions of purity and pollution” that map onto caste markers used to demean and dehumanise people in their everyday realities.
Caste markers include names, slurs, food habits, family deities, beliefs and customs and colourism according to SADAN.
“We are overjoyed that the Ontario Human Rights Commission acknowledges our trauma and the intersectional ways in which caste oppression and stratification operate,” SADAN has pointed out.
Reaction of SADAN team on policy
The co-founder of SADAN, Dr Chinnaiah Jangam, termed this policy a “historic win” for human rights champions among others.
Jangam said: “It will act as an antidote to the spurious campaigns of dominant caste Hindus who use Hinduphobia as a weapon to silence human rights, champions, academics, and anti-casteism activists who speak about caste oppression and discrimination in South Asia and Canada.”
Another co-founder of SADAN, Vijay Puli said: “As a Dalit living in Canada for more than 15 years, this news is a festival for me and my entire community. As a parent, this is the best protection gift I can give to my children and future generations here.”
“As a Dalit queer person, I am a step closer to safety and healing. I am eagerly looking forward to the day when caste discrimination will be outlawed explicitly throughout Canada,” said Dalit queer programme coordinator for SADAN, John Ramachandran.
Yalini Rajakulasingam, Toronto district school board trustee said: “I am so overjoyed to hear the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s position on caste-based discrimination. This is a historic win for Dalit and caste-oppressed voices everywhere.”
Ontario Human Rights Code
According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, caste discrimination affects all social areas covered by the human rights code, from housing to employment, schools and universities.
The institutions covered under the human rights code have a legal obligation to “make sure their environment is free from discrimination and harassment, bullying or a poisoned environment based on caste and other related grounds”.
In this context, SADAN said: “This will finally lead to institutions implementing investigative procedures, complaint mechanisms, training and public awareness to protect our children and everyone from all caste-oppressed communities.”
SADAN is a non-profit organisation working for the Dalit, Adivasi and oppressed caste ethnic descent communities of South Asia in Canada.
They seek to address various forms of caste-based discrimination faced by historically oppressed communities in Canada.
The main focus of SADAN is advocacy against caste-based discrimination and for justice, equality and dignity of caste-oppressed diasporic communities and persecuted minorities.
This development can be understood in the context of a series of developments in North America.
As the South Asian diaspora in the US and Canada continues to burgeon and become more diverse as members of historically marginalised communities of South Asia establish a presence in the flourishing western economies against all odds, the prejudices and discriminations from their country of origin have also been exported into North America.
Caste discrimination and its markers like Untouchability, endogamy and discrimination have also reared their ugly heads among ‘desi’ communities in North America.
In the recent past, members of the marginalised communities and anti-caste activists have pushed back against this discrimination, invoking the liberal and anti-discriminatory foundational principles of the US and Canadian democracies.
To the challenge that caste is a non-existent category or a thing of the past, the anti-caste movement cites India’s own Constitution which recognises caste as a festering malaise.
Indian Constitution substantively protects discrimination based on caste under Articles14,15,16 and17. In Article 17, caste discrimination appears as Untouchability which has been historically used to discriminate against marginalised classes of persons.
In the past year, major developments have taken place in the US and Canada on the recognition of caste as a ground for discrimination. This February, the Seattle City Councilpasseda Bill prohibiting caste discrimination in business and public accommodations.
In September,Fresno in California became the second city to ban caste discrimination in the US. Fresno considers ‘indigeneity’ as a protected category as well.
In August, the California State Assembly passed a Bill banning caste discrimination for the entire state. The Bill awaits the assent of the Governor of the state. If it is made in a law, California will be the first US state to ban caste discrimination.
Canada has been equally responsive to the recognising caste-based inequalities in the country. This year in March, the Toronto school board is thefirst to recognise caste-based discrimination in schools in the city.
These developments, although significant for the people who suffer from caste-based discrimination, may have a tangential diplomatic effect.
Right-wing Hindutva lobbies may try to broadbrush these developments and connect them to the recent fracas between India and Canada.
In June, Canada accused India of being responsible for the killing of Khalistan leader and chief of the Khalistan Tiger Force Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada.
India designated Khalistan Tiger Force as a terrorist organisation in February this year.
Since then the diplomatic relationships between the two countries have reached a new low. While Canada cited security concerns to expel Indian diplomatic staff, Indiaclaimed“interference to internet affairs” for seeking parity for Canadian diplomatic staff in New Delhi.
India suspended its visa services in Canada and described the latter as “safe haven for terrorists”.
The situation reached another impasse when areport by the New York Times stated that the US had assisted Canada with intelligence that linked India to the murder of Nijjar.
The report alleged that the US provided intelligence assistance as a part of the ‘Five Eyes Alliance’, which is an international intelligence sharing arrangement among the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
The Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government has repeatedly asserted that West’s criticism of India or the Indian community will not be tolerated.
This emerging position, that the West should mind its own business and not interfere in the ‘internal affairs’ of India, is frequentlytouted as a sign of a ‘new India’ by politicians and public figures.
In April last year, Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankarrespondedto criticism by the US secretary of State Antony Blinken by saying that India takes up human rights issues as well when they arise in the US, especially “when they pertain to our community”.
It is unclear what Jaishankar meant by “our community”. Was it US-citizens of Indian origin, Indian citizens living and working in the US, or Hindus living in the US?