In the last few days, the suicide of Mumbai-based Dr Payal Tadvi has been trending on social media with South Asians from across the world weighing in on this evil that has been the bane of Indian society.
Dr Payal Tadvi, a Dalit, was a victim of vicious caste-based harassment at the hands of three fellow doctors at Nair hospital, Mumbai where she was completing her post-graduation. While there she was asked to temporarily share a room with two other doctors who harassed and taunted her about her low caste.
You would think that caste-based discrimination was confined to rural India among people lacking an education and living in a feudalistic society, but apparently this caste system seems to be more prevalent among educated people hailing from so-called higher castes in India and across the world.
Anyone reading this and believing this to be an ill afflicting Indian society could not be more wrong. Indian immigrants have imported this affliction with them to the west where the evil practice occurs.
A few years ago, I met a South Asian couple from Brampton who were both IIT alumni. They were hoping to find a suitable match for their daughter who was then a newly minted doctor. They received many responses from parents looking to settle their own doctor or engineer sons and met with several potential suitors and their parents. It didn’t take very long for the conversation to veer toward caste and not surprisingly, on discovering the girl’s family belonged to a lower caste, they rejected her. Turned out that most of the boys came from upper caste families and no self-respecting parent would allow or like their children messing with the blood line by marrying beneath their caste. The heartbroken father told me how shocked he was to discover that his daughter, a bright doctor with a great future ahead was not desirable because she happened to be born into a low caste family! What was even more disturbing to the father was that while the parents who grew up in India believed in the caste system, their sons who were Canadian-born went along with this system that has been a stain on Indian society.
In an interview with the CBC on the issue of caste in Canada back in 2015, a BC-based veterinarian Varinder Dabri himself a member of a lower caste referred to caste as a disease with no cure and a kind of cancer killing society.
In the interview he revealed that despite being highly educated and having a respectable job, he was defined by his status by other South Asians.
“They’re telling their kids to not marry a person to a lower caste. There was one girl I worked with from a so-called upper caste and when I told her I am from a lower caste she didn’t believe it. She said ‘no, no they’re dirty and filthy and don’t have a good education.'”
Dabri rightly observed that casteism was a lot worse than even racism.
It is hard to fathom South Asians still clinging on to the idea of one caste being superior to another caste in the western world. South Asians living in Canada have a heightened sensitivity when it comes to being discriminated against by whites. The slightest whiff of racism faced by a single South Asians will galvanize the community into holding anti-racism rallies, mayors will descend from their Ivory Towers to issue statements expressing their outrage, MPs and MPPs of South Asian origin will keep the issue of racism alive and vow to dedicate their time and power to combat racism they say is an evil. But when it comes to combating and dealing with caste, unarguably an insidious presence in our society, there is a deafening silence.
The beauty of Canada is that any South Asian who faces discrimination based on skin color and ethnicity can count upon the community as well as the political class to come to his or her defence and get justice. But victims of caste discrimination can’t turn to anyone because mainstream Canadians are not about to wade into a caste system that has been entrenched in Indian society for centuries. Even so, which white person would believe that there are brown people who look down upon other brown people because they were born into the wrong caste? -CINEWS