March 9 (Reuters) – Toronto’s school board has become the first in Canada to recognize that caste discrimination exists in the city’s schools and has asked a provincial human rights body to help in creating a framework to address the issue.
The Toronto District School Board on Wednesday voted in favor of a motion to that effect, which was introduced by board trustee Yalini Rajakulasingam. Sixteen trustees voted in favor of the motion and five voted against it.
The move addresses an issue important to the area’s South Asian diaspora, particularly the Indian and Hindu communities. It comes weeks after Seattle became the first U.S. city to outlaw caste discrimination after a city council vote.
India’s caste system is among the world’s oldest forms of rigid social stratification.
“This motion is not about division, it is about creating healing and empowering communities and providing them safer schools that students deserve,” Rajakulasingam said.
Rajakulasingam called for a partnership between the human rights commission of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, and Toronto’s school board.
The caste system dates back thousands of years and allows many privileges to upper castes but represses lower castes. The Dalit community is on the lowest rung of the Hindu caste system and have been treated as “untouchables.”
Caste discrimination was outlawed in India over 70 years ago, yet bias persists, according to several studies in recent years, including one that found people from lower castes were underrepresented in higher-paying jobs.
Even though India has banned untouchability, Dalits still face widespread abuse across that country, where their attempts at upward social mobility have at times been violently put down.
Debate over the caste system’s hierarchy is contentious in India and abroad, with the issue intertwined with religion. Some people say discrimination is now rare. Indian government policies reserving seats for lower-caste students at top Indian universities have helped many land tech jobs in the West in recent years.
Activists opposing caste discrimination say it is no different from other forms of discrimination like racism and hence should be outlawed.