(Image Credit: ‘Terracotta soldiers’ by scottgunn on flickr.com; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
Toronto District School Board’s move to ‘recognize that caste oppression exists in Toronto schools’ is yet another example of Social Justice Warriors, being in search of a cause, have conjured up one from thin air.
Recently, the Globe & Mail reported that the Toronto District School Board had voted ‘to recognize that caste oppression exists in Toronto schools’. As a sidebar, I find it mildly interesting that they got a Hindu reporter (Uday Rana) to write this story. I note this without insinuating that this may have been by design, but the coincidence does seem striking.
Before I launch into an analysis of the factors & facets relating to this move by TDSB, I think it will be worth highlighting one point that has I have often made in relation to claims of ‘systemic racism’. The stark reality in any country is that the biggest system is the government (and more broadly, politics). Therefore, any politician trying to score brownie points by bemoaning the existence of ‘systemic racism’ in the country should look in the mirror; if ‘systemic racism’ does exist as alleged, then the primary culprit is the political class. Instead of lecturing the population, they should do self-reflection and, if they have an ounce of integrity, resign their positions.
In similar vein, if (and I must emphasize this IF as much as humanly possible) ‘caste oppression’ exists in Toronto schools, it must be because the people in charge of running the schools, as well as the entire TDSB, have allowed it to happen. Therefore, all of them should resign so we can start from a clean slate as we embark on a crusade to rid Toronto’s schools of this scourge. After all, the people responsible for a problem cannot be expected to solve it. But we know that is not going to happen. Making such claims and declarations turns one into a member of Canada’s neo-clergy, and as I have examined in depth in my previous article ‘Canada’s Neo-Clergy’, people belonging to this group are supposed to be more holy than God Himself. At the very least, they pose as if they suffer from none of the human weaknesses. This brings to mind a Bangladeshi proverb, “Mulla-r paade gondho noin” (“There is no foul smell when the priest farts”). Having pointed an accusatory finger at an identifiable group of people, they will now busy themselves with what they imagine will be the solution. Let us see how their actions will be an exercise in cluelessness.
There are four main parts of this issue: (a) the caste hierarchy (which no longer exists as it once did in the Indian subcontinent) is highly complex such that an average Canadian – or even an above-average Canadian lacking the cultural background – would forever struggle to grasp it, (b) in other countries as well, groupings exist where there is much animosity and outright oppression going on between groups, (c) caste hierarchy is not unique to the Hindu community – it also exists among the Sikh, Muslim and Christian communities in the Indian subcontinent, and (d) children of immigrants growing up in Canada have little idea, if at all they have any, of the entire structure of and the divisions within the caste hierarchy.
It is worth noting here that once upon a time, castes were merely guilds of people in various occupations (including but not limited to the trades). Therefore, there was much mobility (including upward mobility) within the structure. Over time, however, this structure hardened, and a person’s caste began to be determined by birth in a particular family rather than by the work that one did to make a living. It also became a rule that one married only within one’s caste. In more recent times, however, inter-caste marriages became rather common. I myself have an aunt who married in a different caste 50 years ago – and her son has married in a caste that is different from the two castes of his parents. His child cannot be cubby-holed into any caste. She is simply a Hindu – and this is completely unremarkable in modern India.
THE STATE’S SUPPORT
One feature of ideologically driven policies is that over time, the new initiatives go completely counter to previous ones. It is therefore unsurprising that while under our official policy of multiculturalism, Canadians are not only able to form associations / organizations / groups based on their caste identity but also obtain funding from the government for these entities, now their caste identity is supposed to be problematic. I am personally familiar with several of such organizations formed by Canadians belonging to Brahmin, Patel (= Gujarati farmer) and other castes. Having been encouraged – both legally and financially – to uphold, reinforce and celebrate their caste identity by one arm of the government, these Canadians are now being hectored by another arm of the government for the divisions that have been fostered via the State’s support.
One glaring example of this is in the G&M story itself – the organization called ‘Canada-based South Asian Dalit Adivasi Network’ (or SADAN, a Sanskrit word that means ‘house’). ‘Dalit’ is the modern term for what used to be called ‘backward castes’ or ‘lower castes’ in less enlightened times, and ‘adivasi’ means ‘original inhabitant’ (akin to our First Nations). Its co-founder, and an associate professor at Carleton University, Chinnaiah Jangam, is quoted in the story as saying that “… caste-oppression is real, and it exists in Toronto schools”. The story does not explain how a person living in Ottawa has such intimate knowledge of schools in Toronto.
WHAT IS IN A NAME?
The first and most obvious question of those with inquiring minds is how school children would know the caste of another child in their school. Back in the day, people’s first names were a good clue, but that is no longer the case. Any first name can be given to a child of any caste. The last name still remains an indicator of caste or religious affiliation, albeit it is not infallible. For example, the last name Patel can belong to a Hindu or Parsi (Zoroastrian) or Muslim individual. Similarly, the last name Mehta can denote a Hindu or a Parsi (the famous music conductor Zubin Mehta is a Parsi). If a Mehta is Hindu, he can be either a Brahmin or a Bania. Someone with the last name ‘Bajwa’ can be a Sikh or a Muslim (both would be of Punjabi ethnicity).
It requires a very high degree of familiarity to guess at the caste of a Hindu by their last name – familiarity that children who grew up here are unlikely to possess. Then there is the issue of diversity (something that we are supposed to take pride in). Hindu last names tend to be very regional. For example, ‘Bandopadhyay’ is Bengali, ‘Reddy’ is Telugu, ‘Dhar’ is Kashmiri, ‘Vaidyanathan’ is Tamil, ‘Menon’ is Malyalee (whereas ‘Memon’ is Gujarati Muslim) and so on and so forth (my last name ‘Maharaja’ confuses most Indians; they can’t place it in any region of India, while my first name usually misleads Sikhs to believe that I am a Sikh, because ‘Darshan’ is a common name among Sikhs).
The bottom line is that for a child to inflict ‘caste oppression’ on another child in Canada, a long list of highly improbable factors needs to be in place for the former to know the caste of the latter. There is also the question of whether school children go around discussing their caste with each other. I find the idea ridiculous; from my observation, they are preoccupied with things that are foremost on the minds of all Canadian children.
TDSB Trustee Yalini Rajakulasingam, who introduced the motion on the floor, said that “caste-oppressed people do not come forward to share their stories of oppression because there is nothing else to deal with the problem”. In other words, we are supposed to believe that the problem exists because Ms. Rajakulasingam says so (and because her fellow-trustee Anu Sriskandarajah agrees). There are no actual facts to back up the claim.
Oddly, the TDSB motion claims blithely and breathlessly that “there is rise in documented anti-caste discrimination in the diaspora, including in Toronto”. I find it distressing that no one has tried to square this circle: if the supposedly caste-oppressed people do not come forward to share their stories of oppression, where and how was this discrimination ‘documented’? (Notice the flip from ‘oppression’ to ‘discrimination’ here). Again, we are supposed to go along with the uncorroborated claims of two TDSB trustees and build a whole edifice to tackle something, lack of evidence be damned.
The problem is that as the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come”. Building a system to tackle a non-existent problem will invite the attention of those seeking gratification (which may be something as little as the proverbial 15 minutes of fame, or more optimistically, a column in CBC’s unabashedly woke ‘First Person’ series). The resulting ‘data’ will validate the initiative. Especially since we are dealing with children here, investigating and proving any accusation will be, at best, a challenge. So, we will go from “Because the trustees say so” to “Because the accusers say so”. From a different arena, the infamous ‘Hijab hoax’ in Toronto from 2018 comes to mind, where the police investigation found that the ‘incident appears not to have occurred. Oddly, there were no cries of ‘anti-Asian racism’ even though an unnamed and unidentified Asian man was falsely alleged to have carried out the attack on the girl.
On a recent evening, as I was driving and listening to the John Oakley Show on AM640, I heard him announce that this TDSB story was one of the issues that he would be discussing with his guests later in the show. This piqued my interest, so I continued listening. One of his guests was former Ontario Premier Earnie Eves, who appears on this show as a guest every Wednesday. The other guest’s name was unfamiliar, so I don’t remember it. When Mr. Oakley posed this question to them, both replied to the effect that this policy would be difficult to implement (without elaborating on how it would be difficult), and therefore they were against it.
It was one more ‘facepalm moment’ for me while listening to what passes for policy expertise in Canada – their objection to this idea was not based on principle but rather on its practicability. The natural rebuttal from a proponent of the idea would be that they would make it practicable – and it would be many years before enough people within that system can be convinced of its impracticability. By then, the damage would be done.
Let me reiterate that this weak sauce was coming from a former Premier of the most populous province in Canada. I have been vocally unhappy with the quality of ideas emanating from our commentariat for years, and this instance is as good an example as any regarding why policy debates in Canada are so woefully short on quality. Mr. Eves, a lawyer by education, is 77 years old and left office 20 years ago. I would expect a tad more informed comment from him about an issue being discussed in the public sphere. While this whole caste thing is alien to most Canadians, as a supposedly sage guy offering opinions on every topic under the sun on one of the most listened-to talk shows in southern Ontario every Wednesday, Mr. Eves may be expected to have a grip on at least the basics of the issue – but he most emphatically didn’t. Or perhaps he wasn’t at the top of his form because he had just returned from a golfing vacation in Florida.
The second question that would be on any inquiring mind would be whether this initiative can be expanded to apply to other immigrant communities in Canada. The tendency to discriminate – and even oppress – other groups of people is basic human nature. It is therefore unsurprising that examples of this abound across the world. It is also true that Canada has immigrants from every part of the world. Invoking the spectre of discrimination or oppression against certain groups to target specific communities would be the easiest thing in the world. In this context, the comment by a group called Canadian Organization for Hindu Heritage Education (COHHE) that this move by TDSB is ‘Hinduphobic’ has a grain of truth to it; the Hindu community is being singled out here.
This aspect is precisely why I believe that all Canadians should come out against this motion of TDSB – the appetite of Social Justice Warriors being insatiable, I consider it a given that in the future, they will come out with similar motions targeting other immigrant communities. For example, Muslims belonging to the Ahmadi sect of Islam are not even considered to be Muslims in Pakistan – legally. The list of oppressions against them in that country is long. If this precedent of ‘caste-oppression’ is allowed to stand, you can bet that ‘anti-Ahmadi oppression’ will attract the attention of some (possibly elected) SJW at some point in time.
Other examples are: the persecution of Shi’a Muslims in Saudi Arabia (where the majority population & the regime are Sunni), the maltreatment of Kurds in Turkey, the intense animosity towards the Hazara in Afghanistan, the mass incarceration and enslavement of Uighur and other Muslim minorities in China and so on (although in the last instance, SJW’s may be afraid of being branded as Sinophobic).
EDUCATION IS THE LOCK
When people immigrate to Canada, their mindset contains two opposing desires: to forget the unpleasant parts from their country of origin, and to find solace in a community from that place of origin. I believe that our policy of multiculturalism (as practiced) defeats the former desire by incentivising the emphasis on sectarian differences. While hitherto we have focused on celebrating the cultures of immigrants, I think we may have reached a saturation point in that direction, so naturally a push is on now to zero in on and obsess about the negative parts of those cultures. The Hindu community, being politically weak, is the perfect canary in the coalmine for implementing this 180-degree change in direction. Unless we act collectively, now, it is only a matter of time before other immigrant communities come in the crosshairs of the do-gooders. The way they will seek to go about this will be by an ostensible desire to ‘educate’ people to get rid of what they claim is a problem.
Education, in its pure form, is supposed to be the key – but this ill-motivated ‘education’ will lock us into a cycle of ever-increasing divisiveness. In this regard, it is especially threatening that the TDSB is “asking the Ontario Human Rights Commission to help create a provincial framework that addresses caste discrimination and oppression”. From this, we can assume that the good residents of Cochrane, ON – who may not have met a single Hindu, or not known that the person is a Hindu if they met them – will have to ‘upgrade’ their knowledge of what ‘caste-oppression’ is.
Whether the front-line troops in the Social Justice army realize this or not, this is actually a power game being played from the top. As the number and percentage of immigrants rises, many of them will inevitably become successful. For the power elite, it then becomes imperative to curb – and preferably remove – the power and political clout that this success of immigrants engenders. Just as the colonizers of yore divided the communities of the colonized lands to rule over them, an exercise is afoot to divide them here in the present, in order that the power elite may be able to retain their hold on the structures of power in Canada. Perhaps the only difference is that now it is being done under a cloak of ‘compassion’ or ‘caring’.
Ultimately, this defenestration of immigrant communities will be to the detriment of ALL Canadians. As it is, white Canadians are already under attack on grounds of ‘white supremacy’ and via assorted job quotas and other policies favouring non-white people. This is undoubtedly divisive and causes much resentment among people who are either subject of veiled attacks or deprived of opportunities. With this TDSB motion, the forced division of Canadian society just kicked into a higher gear. Unless we act to push back vigorously now, ‘division’ will morph into ‘vivisection’, and we will all be sorrier for it.
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