Massive opposition from South Asian Community included calls, emails and stand-in protests

Toronto, Canada, March 10, 2023:  The Toronto District School Board (TDSB)  passed the “caste oppression” motion on Wednesday March 8, after an amendment to remove its most egregious provision – the formation of a committee consisting solely of biased activists to develop the curriculum to address the alleged issue. The change came in response to a massive pushback from the normally silent South Asian community, and is a positive development in stopping the agenda-driven caste train, which sought to steamroll all discussion and silence opposing voices. 

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) also acknowledged its own lack of expertise on the issue of caste and resisted the push for hasty decisions, instead amending the motion to refer it to the Ontario Human Rights Commission as a neutral observer to study and assess the issue. 

The controversial measure proposing to legalize discrimination against a minority group, based solely on their origin or last names or dietary preferences, is unfortunately still part of the amended motion. The singling out of one community on these otherwise broad markers, had resulted in significant opposition from the Canadian South Asian diaspora. CoHNA Canada helped the community send more than twenty one thousand emails and make numerous phone calls to the trustees to make their voices heard. The TDSB office in North York also witnessed large stand-in protests while the voting was underway, with community residents braving the freezing weather for hours to ensure they were heard.

The five dissenting trustees injected a sense of gravitas and purpose to the proceedings advocating caution. Trustee Pei passionately opposed the motion pointing to the absolute lack of evidence of overt discrimination by anyone in the school district based on caste. Trustee Li, Trustee Wong and Trustee Hastings also voted NO. Trustee Zakir Patel pointed out how his own last name had created confusion in the minds of people regarding his religion. Trustee Patel also reported that when he personally challenged the sponsor of the motion, SADAN, to provide a single case of discrimination, they could not do so.  

Several trustees who supported the motion used a common theme to justify their vote, “Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it is not there” which drew sharp reaction from those opposed. “That is not the way to do science,” said CoHNA Board Member Suresh Krishnamoorthy,. “We test hypotheses and analyze available data before asserting a conclusion. Nobody has offered any data here. One would expect Trustees of a school board to have a better understanding of the methods of  science.” Trustee Rajakulasingam, by her own admission said, “In Seattle, 4% of the community identify as South Asian. At the TDSB, we are at 22%.” But she carefully avoided explaining why such a significantly higher proportion of South Asian residents could not provide a single documented case of caste oppression.

In 2021, dispassionate scientific analysis from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a mainstream research organization, played a critical role in confirming that caste was irrelevant to the lives of the Indian Diaspora in the US and in calling out the unscientific nature of the Equality Labs survey, which has been used repeatedly by activists to make false claims .

It was alarming to see many trustees of non-South Asian origin vote yes, despite admitting they did not know or understand enough about caste. “Some of the Trustees seem to think it’s ok to use the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ framework of McCarthyism to profile the South Asian students in their care in order to educate themselves on this issue,” said CoHNA Canada leader Rishabh Sarswat. “I am shocked at their callous disregard for the deep scars this discriminatory process would leave on the psyche of an adolescent. They would see their community being effectively put on probation and viewed with suspicion,” he added.

The demand from caste discrimination activists for South Asians to be assigned a “collective guilt” based entirely on unverifiable personal anecdotes would be considered bigoted, xenophobic and outright racist if it were applied to almost any other group. “This is just colonialism all over again where lawmakers who are supposed to be impartial, make casually Hinduphobic remarks and and echo outrageous propaganda put out by hate groups,” said Nikunj Trivedi, President of CoHNA. “There should be no tolerance for attempts to profile a vulnerable minority group. ”

Reacting to the amended motion to defer to the OHRC to study the issue, fellow CoHNA Canada leader Jay Mehta sounded disappointed but also relieved. “I wish they had rejected the motion outright as a wasteful venture in the face of real problems. But this is a good step to apply the brakes on the runaway caste train driven by Equality Labs-thanks to the pushback from a normally silent community. We expect OHRC to do the right thing, listen to all sides and take it off altogether.  We are cautiously hopeful the OHRC will shift the focus to actual scientific data versus unverifiable anecdotes and confirm what we have been saying all along – that the South Asian diaspora in Canada does NOT bring caste oppression with them, and that is it actually racist to make such blanket assertions,” said Mehta. “CoHNA Canada is eager to partner with OHRC in their impartial examination of the possibility of ‘caste oppression’ in TDSB.”