Ambedkar’s alma mater, Columbia University, recently joined the increasing number of US institutions banning caste discrimination by adding it as a protected category. Vikas Tatad, An Ambedkarite student who holds key positions as a student representative, including being the Senator and Chair of University Policy and Rules Committee, initiated the process. In March, Vikas proposed the addition of caste as a protected category in Discrimination and Harassment Policy in the Teachers College of Columbia University.
According to Vikas, after he raised the topic in the general session meetings, which are held at the start of every semester, he approached the Diversity and Inclusion Head of his college and other counselors to explain the importance of adding caste to the discrimination policy. Following a lot of meetings within the administration, the school added caste as a protected category, and discussions about caste as a category was spurred in other departments and schools. Consequently, the senate members of all the departments prepared a resolution to pass against caste discrimination. With 71 votes, the resolution passed.
Vikas acknowledges the contribution of faculties, staff, and students in introducing this legislation. The action by Columbia University comes more than 100 years after Baba Saheb presented his thesis “Caste in India” at the university.
The move is part of a growing trend of institutions in the United States recognizing caste-based discrimination as an issue of concern. Brandeis University, a private research university in Massachusetts, became the first American University to ban caste discrimination in December 2019. The University of California, Davis, in November 2021 codified the social system of caste as a protected category under its anti-discrimination policy. Another significant development came in December 2021, as Harvard became the first Ivy League university to recognize caste-based discrimination as a protected category for all graduate and undergraduate bodies.
There are a total of 26 schools and universities that have recognized caste-based discrimination as an issue of concern, and with Columbia University added to the list, the fight against caste-discrimination is only set to gain further traction in the U.S.
Other major developments in the global fight against caste.
The breakthrough in Columbia University comes close on the heels of other recent developments in the fight against caste. The Senate Judicial Committee in California, the richest province in the United State and the world passed the bill on April 26th on caste discrimination taking the state just one step away from banning the caste based discrimination.
Same Day in neighbouring Canada, Burnaby council voted unanimously, on a motion tabled by Councillor Sav Dhaliwal to include caste as a protected category in city policies. The Burnaby council will also soon create a policy framework to teach its employees, councillors, and managers about caste-based discrimination.
Fight against Caste gains traction in the campuses of United States.
There are a total 26 Schools and Universities which have off late recognised caste-based discrimination.
December 2019: Brandeis University, a private research university in Massachusetts, became the first American university to prohibit caste discrimination. “Brandeis University celebrates the diversity of its faculty, staff, students and alumni. It is in this spirit that the institution seeks to effectively address the concept of caste and its corresponding identity-based lived experience within our policy on nondiscrimination.” Read the statement released by the University.
November 2021:The University of California, (Davis) codified the social system of caste as a protected category under its anti-discrimination policy.
December 2021: Harvard became the first Ivy League university to recognise caste-based discrimination as an issue of concern after Harvard Graduate Student Union ratified a four-year contract that includes a provision for the addition of caste as a “protected category” for all graduate and undergraduate student workers at the university.
December 2022: Brown University, based in Rhode Island province of the United States became the another Ivy League institution to ban discrimination based on caste.
April 2023: Rutgers University of New Jersey, provided safeguard against caste-based discrimination to its faculties and students. Indic historian Audrey Truschke, a faculty in the university tweeted - “I have been privy to a number of caste discrimination issues at Rutgers, including the understandable reluctance of caste oppressed peoples to raise concerns without protections.”
Besides this, various schools and departments across universities have also added caste to their discrimination policy: For Example: Four Schools in the University of Minnesota have added caste to their Diversity Equity and Inclusion criteria.
Columbia University: The varsity that once had Ambedkar as a student
Clearly, though caste has been encompassed in anti-discrimination policies of other US universities, the historic move by the Columbia University acquires an emotional dimensions for the marginalised sections of the Indian Society as Babasaheb Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the messiah of the oppressed who pioneered a lifelong battle against caste had been a student of the Columbia University and acquired dual post-graduate degrees and a doctoral degree and later received an honorary degree in 1952.