10 July, 2020
13 Min Read
GS-PAPER-2 Governance – Caste (Mains and I.V)
What is the issue?
A lawsuit has been filed in California against Cisco Systems for allowing caste discrimination against a Dalit Indian-origin employee. In this context, here is an overview of the issue of caste in America and elsewhere, outside the Indian subcontinent.
Earlier references to 'caste' in America?
What happened after 1965?
The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act came into place as a result of the civil rights campaign in the US. The Act overturned restrictions of race and colour. It thus allowed a whole generation of Indian skilled labour (mostly upper-caste) to be a part of the American dream. But importantly, soon, many “lower-caste” Indians also followed.
This was significantly because they accessed educational opportunities in technical institutions via reservations at home. With this, Dalit discrimination started in the US.
One such example is of the REC Warangal-educated Sujatha Gidla. Gidla's 2017 book ‘Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India’, was published in the US to great acclaim. In New York, she recalls facing discrimination from many Indians. Gidla recounts, a Brahmin bank cashier “wouldn’t accept money from my hands. She would demand that I place it on the counter.”
2015 California textbook debate?
In 2015, the California board of education asked scholars to help it come up with a framework for history and social science textbooks. It was part of a regular evaluation.
Following that, there was a bitter contest over several aspects of Indian history. This included caste and the critique of caste embedded in religions such as Buddhism and Sikhism as well.
The suggestions of the South Asian Histories for All Coalition (SAHFAC), a collective of scholars and historians, were met with opposition. The Hindu American Foundation and other Hindu groups mainly objected. They opposed narratives that portrayed “Hindu civilisation” negatively, and warned they might lead to the bullying of Hindu children.
However, the SAHFAC objected to -
How prevalent is caste discrimination in the U.S.?
Is anti-caste movement possible in the U.S.?
An anti-caste movement taking root in the US is practically hard. Notably, of Indian immigrants, 90% are Brahmins and 1.5% is Dalits. Indians in America are a minority, and Dalits among them are a minority. Issues of such a tiny community making a big enough impact to be called a movement is less likely.
However, a Dalit consciousness has been present in the US from the 1970s or 1980s, away from the bright lights of media activism. People have resisted in private and in public in their own ways. Even hiding one’s caste is a way of fighting caste as Yengde (who works with community-based Ambedkarite organisations in the US) says.
What was the Dalits' demand for the 2001 UN Conference against Racism?
The UN Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance was held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. In the lead-up to the conference, Dalit groups had demanded that the conference also take a stand against the “hidden apartheid” in India.
Since the 1990s, these groups had had some success in lobbying international organisations on caste. The universal language and promise of human rights was used to broaden the framework to see the discrimination.
Specifically, the definition of racial discrimination as “exclusion based on race, colour and descent” was used to acknowledge caste. Notably, in 1999, a report by Human Rights Watch, ‘Broken People: Caste Violence against India’s Untouchables’, focussed international attention on the issue.
Omar Abdullah, then India’s Minister of State for External Affairs said at the conference, the following:
What are the conflicting views in this regard?
Caste Discrimination - California Lawsuit against Cisco Systems
A lawsuit has been filed in California against Cisco Systems, a tech multinational company, for allowing caste discrimination against a Dalit Indian-origin employee.
What is the case about?
What is the American law in this regard?
What is the significance?
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