Gurpreet Singh: Canada needs to stand up for Dalits

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      It is high time that Canada, which claims to be a leader in human rights, follow the European Parliament and recognize caste-based oppression as a form of racism.

      In a major victory for Dalits—or so-called untouchables across the world—the European Parliament has acknowledged that caste-based discrimination is a global evil. The move follows a consistent campaign by the Dalit activists in the U.K. and elsewhere to get international recognition of this age-old crime against humanity.

      Dalits, who have been repeatedly humiliated and abused in caste-ridden Indian society, continue to face oppression, even in the South Asian diaspora.

      The caste system has prevailed in India for centuries and its roots can be traced to Hindu religion. There are four distinct caste groups: Brahmins (priests) on the top, followed by Kshatriyas (rulers), Vaishyas (agriculturists and artisans), and Shudras (those who do menial jobs).

      Though the supporters of this inhuman system claim that it was the creation of the gods, it was clearly man-made and brought into practice by those who had the power and desire to bring the less privileged under subjugation. As a result, Dalits have been forced since time immemorial to indulge in menial and lowly jobs, such as manual scavenging and serving the rich as bonded labourers.

      Since the European Parliament has admitted that this problem is not just confined to South Asia, Canada should also look into this question seriously. Dalits have a significant presence in certain areas of Canada and have their own Sikh temples, while many others follow Christianity and Buddhism.

      There are numerous instances of caste-based discrimination against Dalits in the culturally diverse Greater Vancouver area. As a result some Dalit activists are contemplating pushing this issue through tthe Canadian parliament.

      Legislative changes could provide protection for Dalits from hate crimes in the name of caste. However, the main challenge is likely to come from their own compatriots from the Indo Canadian community. No MPs who trace their roots back to India belong to the Dalit community. And most Indo Canadian elected representatives are from dominant caste groups. 

      In India, Dalits are often denied entry to the temples and other public places in accordance with an orthodox Hindu tradition that prohibits those on the lowest ladder of the caste system from mingling with those on the top. Recently, when Indians were celebrating the 66th Independence Day across the world, an 80-year-old Dalit was stoned to death by the so-called upper-caste goons in Bihar.

      His fault was that he and others like him dared to hoist the national flag of their country, defying illegitimate dictates of the "upper caste" people asking them not to do so.

      It was not the first time that the Dalits faced such brutality for defying the dictates of the privileged group who had imposed this system on "Untouchables" for their own convenience.

      Even the elected members of the village councils from the Dalit community have faced such violence in the past for unfurling the national flag. All this goes on in a country known to be the world’s largest secular democracy, decades after it had gained freedom from the British occupation.

      The political leadership of India has clearly failed to keep up its commitment for a true secular republic in spite of stringent laws against untouchability, which has its roots in the Hindu religion. If India is a secular state, then why does it lack a political will to eradicate this inhumane practice sanctioned by the oldest and the most dominant religious faith once and for all?

      In the states governed by the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party, anti-conversion laws have been passed to prevent people from changing their religion. This has occurred without addressing the caste issue, which is the root cause behind religious conversions.

      Often, people from the Dalit community are compelled to become Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, or Buddhists. These conversions are actually an act of resistance against this barbarity. It is a separate matter that their social conditions do not change with religious conversions either. The caste system continues to haunt Dalits in other faiths alike. For instance, Sikhism, which is a very modern and progressive religion of India, also faces this problem.  

      The birth of Sikhism in Punjab was of great significance. That's because this religion vehemently defied the caste system by allowing Dalits to come into its fold without fear. 

      The holy scripture of the Sikhs include hymns by Dalit saints, and Sikh temples are open to all the caste groups. The 10th and the last master of the Sikh faith, Guru Gobind Singh, laid the foundation of the Khalsa Panth—the militant arm of the Sikh religion that took Dalits under its wings.

      This force was created to challenge the might of Islamic imperialism by bringing the marginalized section of the society under its umbrella. Guru Gobind Singh understood the power of people’s unity. Bringing Dalits into the Khalsa Panth was a revolutionary act of its time, and quickly came under attack from the fundamentalist Hindu chieftains, who could not tolerate any amount of equality to the oppressed classes.

      It is equally important to note that degeneration in adherence to the original Sikh religion resulted in similar caste divisions within the Sikh community. This degeneration started showing its signs when the British rulers annexed Punjab in 1849.

      The pro-British Sikh clergy openly connived with foreign rulers and allowed casteism to be practised even in Sikh temples. It is for this reason that Dalit Sikhs started getting marginalized and were attracted to other progressive breakaway sects, such as Namdharis. 

      The caste-based oppression within the Sikh faith has created conditions in which we see mushrooming of many other breakaway sects, as well as segregation on the basis of caste within Sikh temples both in India and outside the country.

      Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings. He has a Facebook page called We Are All Untouchables!!! 



      Bad Medicine

      Oct 27, 2013 at 12:07pm

      Canada rejects and marginalizes Aboriginals on Reservations and exploits them.

      Unfortunately Racism part of Canada's history and current policies toward Aboriginals.

      Dalits are not on the Canadian 'Radar' or in most Canadians thoughts.

      We should support Human Rights for all Aboriginals and Dalits.


      Oct 27, 2013 at 12:31pm

      Actually in India all religious groups suffer from the practice of untouchability. U.N.O. observed in 2007 and said that Indian government has failed to protect the interests of Dalits. Although there is a stringent law to deal with atrocities on dalits but the same has not been properly as the State machinery itself suffers from caste bias and prejudice. I think only international pressure can force the Indian government to protect dalits against discrimination and atrocities. Hence globalization of caste based discrimination can bring some succor to dalits.


      Oct 27, 2013 at 4:11pm

      Sorry, no more legislation that limits rights. It will be abused, especially "hate crime" legislation that is destroying free speech, censoring cartoonists and crushing dissent under the guise of religious protection.

      Canada already has anti discrimination laws these people can use at their discretion to prevent any old world caste nonsense from preventing them from getting a job here or any other basic rights. I won't vote for or trust any freedom of speech crushing legislation that's the kind of stuff the Indian government does to prevent anybody calling out the Hindu nationalists about their racism.

      As for India there's nothing we can do. It's not our business to interfere in Indian domestic politics that change will have to come from within. We can only offer them favorable trading status if they abandon that archaic caste system but it's unlikely to ever happen with nationalists in power.

      Raju Charles

      Oct 28, 2013 at 6:19pm

      Caste has no place in a Christian nation like Canada! Evil caste is a disgrace to the Western Nations. People are born Free and Equal in Dignity and Rights,not in caste India!


      Nov 12, 2013 at 5:45am

      Caste has no place in any country in today's world. All of us have to work towards making it possible. Discrimination based on any thing has to be opposed. It should start with ourself personally. We need not look to governments to stop it.

      Harbans Lal Badhan

      Apr 17, 2014 at 12:25am

      Where there are Hindus or Indians, there is Caste System. Indian Caste system is more dangerous and harmful than any other kind of Racial discrimination or slavery system. Caste is not only a social and religious evil but also a mental disease and mental sickness. Indian caste system should be banned at any cost by Act of Parliament or by the Law of the State. Otherwise it (caste) will spoil and kill the democratic and secular character of any society and state. Caste system is not only a devil but also a monster. It can slaughter the unity, progress and development of state and society. To believe in caste system is a crime against humanity, human rights and fundamental rights.

      Harbans Lal Badhan

      Oct 21, 2014 at 4:56am

      Indian Caste system is more dangerous and harmful than chemical weapons. If you want to save your religion, society and nation, annihilate the Indian Caste system and Untouchability at the earliest. It (Indian Caste system) is a great threat and challenge to unity and peace of global society. Religion is a personal matter of an individual. State or society has no right to interfere in the personal life of an individual. In society, religion is not so important . But on the other hand human rights and fundamental rights and equality, liberty and fraternity and social and economic equality is more important than religion. Individual is more important than religion.. If one`s religion dose not give social equality, economic equality, educational equality and religious equality, one can change his religion.


      Nov 27, 2014 at 3:23am

      Hinduism divided the society into high and low caste, enforced inhumane Hindu traditions to hate the unfortunate lower castes and punish those who dare to cross caste lines. A Hindu is primarily loyal to his caste than his country. In Canada, the role of Hindus have been assumed by Jatt Sikhs, though their religion is against caste system as they too belong to Shudra varna but consider & treat dalits inferior.