What it took for the West to wake up and notice casteism

Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia took place in 2001, and the world and the Dalit organisations took the caste question there, the West remained ignorant of caste and untouchability. Why?

What it took for the West to wake up and notice casteism
wake up and notice casteism

Writer - Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd :

Brahminism is possibly the worst philosophical school that took birth and survived among human beings. Brahminism as an ideology of casteism was constructed around 1500 BCE. The only source from which we know about its birth is the first major Brahmin spiritual book, the Rigveda.

By the 21st century, it became a source of global discrimination, inequality, and untouchability. Millions of Indians suffer from this barbaric socio-spiritual philosophy.

In India, in Hinduism, this philosophy does not allow the Dalits/Shudras/Adivasis to become temple priests and does not allow them to intermarry and inter-dine to date, as those things form a core part of caste culture. Intercaste marriages resulted in many brutal murders of young couples or one of the partners.

One of the reasons why this philosophy was constructed was because a small section of Aryans in ancient times wanted to remain outside productive labour and survive. Hence, they gave a spiritual sanction to the caste, cultural, and spiritual ideology. It destroyed the Indian social ecosystem and the positive growth of human relations, talents, and socio-spiritual character. This should have ended a long time back. Instead, what has happened?

Global spread

This philosophy, with all its negative values, has spread to the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. It has become a virus. The only hope is that the US has now recognised its dangers, and laws are being framed in different states, cities, and institutions to criminalise caste practices. On March 22, 2023, a Bill was introduced in the California Senate to outlaw caste practices.

Earlier, the Seattle City Council and some universities added caste — along with religion, race, gender and sexual orientation — to the anti-discrimination list.

In Canada, the Toronto Education District Board has outlawed caste practice. The laws that are being passed in the US are more radical than what the Indian Constitution did. It abolished only untouchability but not caste.

But the anti-caste laws in the US go beyond to criminalise all caste-based humiliations, discriminations, and bullying. There is a lesson here for Indian lawmakers.

The gurus who uphold this system as the most revered Hindu divine system are also migrating to the US. They spread caste-discriminatory culture from their temples and cultural institutions and finally use their practices at workplaces in those countries too. They use food, cultural practices, family names, and accents in the speech to dig out the caste background of immigrants.

The first-generation migrants inculcate the culture of caste among the second- and third-generation American or Canadian citizens. They would want to turn America gradually into New India.

Immigrant dwijas (Brahmins, Banias, Kshatriyas, Kayasthas, and Khatris) reportedly treat migrant Dalits/Shudras and Adivasis as lesser beings within the Indian diaspora.

Lack of awareness

Christians in the West did not appear to seriously study the philosophical and ideological mind of Brahminism. Though there are several South Asian Centres in the academic institutions in those countries, those centres rarely researched caste and Brahminism.

The caste-based discrimination in the US was brought into the public domain by Equality Labs headed by Thenmozhi Soundararajan and other Dalit Buddhist Organisations like the Ambedkar Association of North America (AANA), Boston Study Group (BSG), Periyar Ambedkar Study Circle (PASC), Ambedkar Buddhist Association Texas (ABAT), Ambedkar-King Study Circle (AKSC), and Ambedkar International Mission (AIM). They have conducted their own studies and surveys. The outcome is the present awareness of caste in the western world.

The question then is what have the centres of South Asian Studies done all these years? Most of the so-called top-class academics from India have been working in these centres. They have conducted millions of dollars of studies on South Asian societies and states. But until the beginning of the 21st century, by the time the Durban UN Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia took place in 2001, and the world and the Dalit organisations took the caste question there, the West remained ignorant of caste and untouchability. Why?

Most of the left-liberal scholars teaching and researching in those centres wrote tomes on India. But all that writing and teaching did not help the people who were facing caste discrimination and untouchability. Did they go to the US to live a better life there? Did they help the immigrants to the Western world live a life of equality? Caste and untouchability migrated along with Brahmins, Banias, Kayasthas, Khatris, and Kshatriyas.

The centres of South Asian studies did not organise seminars and symposia on the issues of equality by abolishing caste. They did not participate in anti-caste discourses in Indian universities till the Mandal movement arrived in the 1990s. And, even after that, they appeared to cold-shoulder Dalit/Shudra/OBC scholars.

They studied class, gender, subalternism and so on. But those studies remained abstract without giving any hope to the oppressed castes and those who have been suffering human untouchability, while producing food for the nation. They did not question the rigid caste structure in the Hindu religion, though they did myriad studies on Hinduism.


This whole process of fighting caste and untouchability in recent years came to the US after Dalit-Buddhist organisations there took these issues to the black women and men. They came forward to support them in several ways. Cornel West, Isabel Wilkerson, and others got fully involved in writing and speaking about the caste system in a more creative way than Indians did.

Then, women like Ksama Sawant, herself an upper-caste woman but concerned about human equality, and Aisha Wahab got involved in fighting against casteism. The Seattle Bill was introduced by Sawant. The California bill was moved by Wahab, a Democratic senator of Afghan origin. What great solidarity.

But by and large, the Dwija academia working in the US remain neutral or silent. Many among them support the theory that caste is a colonial construct and may result in Hinduphobia if such laws are passed in the US and Canada. Such casteism does not help the world. Let us take a clear stand on equality wherever humans live.

(The writer is former Director at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, a political theorist, and an author.)

Courtesy : The Federal News