Can Toronto help Canada end casteism in the classroom? | Civil Rights

On March 8, 2023, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) made history by passing First resolution in Canadian legislative history accept the reality of class distinction and vow to oppose it. The resolution was introduced by trustee Yalini Rajakulasingam and represents Canada’s largest school board’s profound acknowledgment of the suffering of parents of class oppression.

As a Dalit in Canada, I am relieved that my people’s pain will finally be recognized in Toronto. The TDSB will now ask the Ontario Provincial Human Rights Commission to “provide a framework” to address caste discrimination in public education.

This historic move now helps Canadian Dalits break the long silence that pervades the caste issue. Ontario may become the first province in Canada to recognize caste discrimination. For me and every class-oppressed Canadian like me, this is really important. That this happened just a few weeks after Seattle City Council In the United States adopting similar legislation gives me more hope that the era when caste discrimination could be ignored in North America is coming to an end.

Level negatively affect more than 1.9 billion people worldwide, including 2.5 million South Asian Canadians, reducing our quality of life. It defines who and where we worship, where we live, our academic and professional choices and advancement, even our personal relationships — essentially our entire lives. our life.

Dalits, who sit at bottom of this hierarchy, was deemed “untouchable” and condemned by a violent caste system with separate neighborhoods, places of worship, and schools. And while caste may have its roots in South Asia, it also exists in Canada and is haunting our communities and schools in Toronto and beyond.

I came to Toronto more than 15 years ago, knowing that my reasons for coming here are not the same as many other South Asians. I came here not for economic reasons, but to escape the violent punishment of the caste system.

Back in India, I endured violence and outrage too painful to name. I was born in a secluded Dalit slum in my village. I have dominion class friends and teachers who will treat me with mean things and make fun of my not knowing English. My family lives in poverty. In India, Dalits like us have to endure countless class atrocities – possibly being raped or murdered simply for crossing what the ruling classes have set as acceptable boundaries. okay for us. Awful.

After much effort, I took my family to Toronto. We lived in a cellar and started building our lives here. During my journey to become one of the few Dalit social workers in Canada, I have witnessed a lot of caste: from people discussing their place of worship discrimination to the usual cruelty of caste slurs and jokes in South Asian family circles. For example, at parties in South Asia, people often make caste jokes about referring to Dalits as criminals, saying that we are dirty, uncultured, flawed and depraved, that we are are rapists and thieves back home.

They will even extend that caste mindset to other South Asian immigrants, criticizing the Caribbean Indians as uncultured because they come from “lower” castes. These jokes are not the exception but the norm.

What shocked me was the level of public bigotry in our community. As a social worker in the community, I have witnessed how caste is part of a coercive measure to control domestic violence between different caste couples. It is part of the abuse of class oppressed domestic workers by ruling class families. And this is at the heart of the exploitation of undocumented workers, who are trafficked to work in restaurants, construction and other industries. That’s why I founded Canada’s South Asian Dalit Adivasi Network to give our community a voice and a path to citizenship along with other protected communities.

Of course, the caste distinction in Canada is as old as the existence of the Dalit community in the country. Maihya Ram Mehmi, the great-grandfather of civil rights activist Dalit Anita Lal, experienced caste discrimination in the form of untouchables in society. British Columbia’s lumber mill when he came to this country in 1906.

Many recent surveys, including by the civil rights organization Dalit Equality Lab and National Academic Alliance for Class Equality pointed out that Dalit workers and students in the United States faced rampant verbal and physical attacks and discrimination. Our work shows that Canada is no different, and recent reports of wage theft and intentional deprivation of class oppressed workers at a Toronto temple have highlighted strong that.

However, there is nothing more painful for a Dalit parent than seeing how caste discrimination leads to bullying in schools and affects the mental health of children.

Our daughter recently shared with me that a classmate told her she couldn’t be friends because she was of a lower caste. She told us about the class bullying she encountered on the playground. I am haunted by the violence we thought we were free from, and horrified to see my daughter facing the same thing here in Toronto schools. As I wipe her tears again and again after these traumatic class encounters, I wonder how deeply our children need support to heal from class and towards peace. prize.

Because my family is not alone. Meera Estrada, a Dalit Hindu journalist in Toronto who has children at TDSB, told us how quiet she was growing up, ashamed of her caste identity, in part because, “I just know that we’re not part of the story, and if we are, it’s a mockery or a mockery.”

“If I had been taught caste as a child, I would have understood what was happening to us, especially as I experienced more alienation as a Dalit woman in my later years.” she said. “All South Asian children must have access to accurate evidence-based history that examines the systems that have historically caused harm so that we can heal together and learn from it.”

Of course, the kids are not to blame here for the way they treat each other. Honestly, the community isn’t to blame here either. We have never had an honest dialogue focused on healing from caste. That is why we need equality sensibility to teach us a painful past but also to show the hope of reconciliation.

That’s why Canadian Dalits and their South Asian allies around the world are celebrating this historic victory in Toronto. Casteism exists in Canada. It is affecting class oppressed Canadians in illegal ways, affecting our civil rights and creating unsafe schools and workplaces. And we know what the remedy is: change policy and raise awareness of caste equality.

We know there are a few stubbornly opposed to this resolution. But there are always those who oppose civil rights. And Canada’s civil rights and international human rights obligations should not be defined by bigotry. We must insist on our equality and the implementation of the rule of citizenship for all.

We thank the Toronto school board for standing on the right side of history and leading Canada in this movement rooted in healing and reconciliation. The tragedy of casteism can be overcome, but we must be discerning about it and united in our commitment to healing and reconciliation.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.

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