In a First in Canada, Toronto School Board Votes to Recognise Caste Oppression

The district school board in Toronto, the largest in the country, has agreed to the creation of a working group of people who identify as Dalit or caste-oppressed.

New Delhi: The district school board in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, has voted to recognise that caste oppression exists in Toronto schools, the Globe and Mail reported.

It has asked the Ontario Human Rights Commission to help create a provincial framework that addresses caste discrimination and oppression, the report said.

The motion was voted upon late Wednesday, with 16 trustees voting in favour and five against.

The newspaper reported that the board also agreed to create a working group of people who identify as Dalit or caste-oppressed. This is believed to be the first time a school board has acknowledged the existence of caste oppression in Canada, it added.

Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee Yalini Rajakulasingam told the daily that caste-oppressed people do not come forward to share their stories of oppression because there is nothing in place to deal with the problem. “There is no category to record caste [oppression]. So it is not being recorded as caste. This does not mean it is not happening,” she said.

She told the daily that the board’s partnership with the human rights commission will remedy that.

The move comes nearly two weeks after Seattle became the first US city to ban caste discrimination, based on a vote by the city council.

“This motion is not about division, it’s about creating healing and empowering communities and providing them safer schools that students deserve,” Rajakulasingam told the newspaper.

“In Seattle, 4% of the community identify as South Asian. At the TDSB, we are at 22%,” she added.

She said that parents who identified as members of the oppressed castes told her about incidents where their children were bullied and harassed.

According to Hindustan Times, TDSB is the largest school board in the country, and serves approximately 235,000 students in 583 schools.

“The original motion was changed a bit since the school board alone could not create this kind of framework. The Ontario Human Rights Commission getting involved will open up discussion further,” Chinnaiah Jangam, an associate professor at Carleton University and co-founder of the Canada-based South Asian Dalit Adivasi Network, told the daily.

He added that this is a historic moment and that the board has opened the doors to discussions on caste oppression everywhere and not just in schools.

The newspaper also reported that the board’s proposal had drawn sharp opposition, especially from a group called the Canadian Organization for Hindu Heritage Education.

The group said that adding caste to the list of protected identities is “Hinduphobic”.

“There is little evidence or reports of ‘caste oppression’ in Toronto and for that matter Canada. Hence the declaration that ‘there is rise in documented anti-caste discrimination in the diaspora, including in Toronto’ makes the motion misleading, prejudiced, and lacking in integrity,” the petition said, which has more than 5,000 signatures, the report said.