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Major Canadian school board recognises caste-based discrimination

Toronto’s school board, the largest in Canada, is joining a growing push to eliminate caste-based discrimination in North America.

The City of Toronto school board is the first in Canada to recognize the existence of caste-based discrimination, a system of social stratification from South Asia that dates back thousands of years.

In a vote on Wednesday, the Toronto District School Board voted 16 to 5 to recognize caste discrimination and create a framework to address it. The motion was tabled by Councilor Yalini Rajakulasingam.

“This motion is not about division. It’s about creating healing and empowering communities and providing safer schools that students deserve,” said Rajakulasingam, who called on the board to work with Ontario’s human rights commission.

Wednesday’s vote is the latest example of a growing trend in North America to recognize and combat caste-based discrimination.

Under the caste system, those who occupy the lower levels of the social hierarchy face persistent discrimination, abuse, and sometimes violence.

In countries with large South Asian communities, such as the US, members of the Dalit community, known as “untouchables”, have pushed for a ban on casteism.

In February, Seattle, Washington, became the first city in the United States to ban caste-based discrimination.

“Like racism, casteism is a system of oppression; it is a very real – and growing – problem in our country and our local communities, but one that is not understood by most Americans,” reads a letter spread by groups that favored Seattle’s push to include caste in its anti-discrimination laws.

Some Hindu groups have opposed the effort, arguing that Hinduism was unfairly vilified and could promote bigotry.

The California State University (CSU) public university system also added caste to its non-discrimination policy in January 2022, another major victory for Dalit rights groups.

“This policy will educate people about invisible caste discrimination,” Prem Pariyar, a Dalit activist, told Al Jazeera at the time. “It will help create a welcoming environment for Dalit students across the country.”