By Abdulla Gaafarelkhalifa
California State University (CSU) has become the first university system in the US to add caste to its anti-discrimination policy. This decision will be impactful as there are 23 campuses across the state that are part of this system.
The addition at CSU follows decisions made late last year from Harvard when they became the first ivy-league school to pass such a policy.
Even in diaspora communities, Dalits experience discrimination, including within the US. Prem Pariyar, a Nepali Dalit CSU graduate student now a mental health clinician, shared his experiences with NBC. He moved to the US after his family was brutally attacked for their caste identity in 2015.
He shared his encounter in a bay area train station with other Nepali ex-patriots. “They asked me, ‘What’s your name?” he said. ‘I told them, I’m Prem Pariyar.’ When they heard my last name, they looked at me from bottom to top. They looked at each other, and I felt very uncomfortable. Why? What’s the difference between them and me?”
Equality Labs shared disturbing statistics about caste life in the US from a survey conducted in 2016. According to them, 1 in 3 Dalits in the US say that they experience discrimination in their educational space, 2 in 3 say they are mistreated in their workplace, and 1 in 4 Dalits experience physical and verbal assault because of their caste.
Despite these statistics being publicly available, many in the Indian community in California are ignorant of the whole issue. During a meeting where Pariyar shared a presentation about Dalit discrimination, an upper-caste Indian professor stood up and said that casteism is an “Indian problem.”
Krystal Raynes, a CSU student trustee who pushed for the system-wide change said “I saw firsthand how those opposed to protecting the rights of caste-oppressed students used the opportunity for public comment on this critical issue to belittle and minimize the lived experiences of people who encounter caste oppression daily… I was moved by the stories from Dalit students and the bravery they exhibited in the face of oppressive action, and I knew that California State University had to recognize these harms towards its own student body.”
After numerous meetings, conferences, and emails, Pariyar managed to get caste protections passed in his department, then at his school, and now throughout Cal State.
“I commend the incredible work and dedication of the students, employees and other partners whose efforts ensure that our policies align with our bold aspirations,” said Cal State Chancellor Joseph I. Castro.
According to NBC, Pariyar has ambitions to fight this issue outside universities. He stated, “This is very personal to me”.