The California State University (CSU) system’s board of trustees voted unanimously on Tuesday to ratify a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with its faculty union that adds caste to the list of categories that are protected against discrimination. The move comes after a few hundred individuals allied with trade coalitions and rights groups as well as faculty wrote in support of the move, which was opposed by a smaller group of eighty-plus faculty that said it would target Indian and South Asian origin individuals for special scrutiny.
The addition of caste as a ‘protected category’ to the CBA with the union (the California Faculty Association or CFA), follows from an earlier move by the 23- campus system to bring caste into the purview of its anti-discrimination policy.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director of Equality Labs, a Dalit rights organisation that works for institutional recognition of caste discrimination, said that the “ undemocratic efforts of opponents who are opposed to caste equity” could not derail things - a reference to the opposition from a faculty group that opposed the change. The group had the backing of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), that had written to oppose the move.
“Neither CFA nor CSU have the right to negotiate a denial of constitutional rights to equal protection and due process,” Suhag Shukla, Executive Director of HAF said in a statement to the trustees that she posted to her Twitter account. Ms. Shukla said she was not given the opportuity to provide testimony but the statement contained what she had planned to say.
“Combatting discrimination of all kinds is a shared goal, but mandating disparate treatment of only Indian and South Asian faculty with a non-facially neutral class is discrominatory and not a solution,” she said in the statement.
“This agreement includes the inclusion of caste as a protected category. We strongly support the inclusion of caste. It is about non-discrimination, not discrimination.,” CFA President Charles Toombs said.
“We have already won and we will defend our win even if we have to go to the highest court in the United States. Justice will not be denied. We now look forward to implementing these policies,” Ms. Soundararajan said.
The recognition of caste as a dimension of discrimination is gaining institutional support in the U.S. For instance, in December, Harvard University ratified an agreemnet with its Graduate Student Union in December which included caste as a protected category.
Among those who sent letters and statements of support for the inclusion of caste in the Cal State CBA were the California Trade Justice Coalition - an alliance of unions and rights groups and APALA AFL-CIO, an Asian American workers alliance affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest federation of unions.