Harvard University has recently added caste as a protected category for all graduate and undergraduate student workers. But Dr. Suraj Yengde, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the most influential Dalit voices of Harvard University said that he wasn't informed about it. In an Instagram post, he called it 'appropriation of hard work of Ambedkarites in the US.'
Equality Labs, a Dalit Civil Rights organization working in the US informed about the development in a statement, "The historic addition marks Harvard as the first Ivy League school to have caste equity protection in its non-discrimination clause for unionised student workers. This decision will impact more than 4,900 student workers at Harvard and the surrounding Harvard community."
The organization also tweeted congratulations to the Harvard Graduate Student Union on this achievement,
Congratulations to @hgsuuaw for adding Caste protections to student contracts! This landmark win impacts more than 4,900 student workers at Harvard and the surrounding community. It is also the first Ivy to have caste protections in its contracts. https://t.co/KYkYVMHrZd ! pic.twitter.com/J2pm7lKMgn— Equality Labs (@EqualityLabs) December 2, 2021
With this addition, Harvard joins UC Davis, Colby College, Brandeis University, and several other universities where students, faculty, and staff face caste-based discrimination, Equality Labs said.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director at Equality Labs, said the courage of the Harvard Graduate Student Union and the inter-caste and an interfaith coalition of community and students who helped make this win possible is inspiring.
However, Dr. Suraj Yengde, a research associate at the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard, who actively writes for Dalit issues in the media and is one of the most popular Dalit voices in India said that he wasn't informed about this development.
He wrote on an Instagram story that he was equally as surprised as the journalists approaching him for a comment on the new policy.
In a seemingly infuriated tone, he wrote, "How can you exclude the one proud Ambedkarite on (Harvard) campus who's been in the corridors for longer and has been actively lobbying for caste-sensitive policies?"
He called this move by Harvard, a "classic case of savarnas and sinister NGOs (seemingly pointing towards Equality Labs) appropriating the hard work of Ambedkarites in the US."
(Screenshot of the Instagram story by @suraj.yengde)
Raj Muthu, a Dalit alumni of Harvard University, said this win is a small but critical step in ensuring that there is at least an avenue of recourse for students like him who have experienced caste-based discrimination at the premier university and that the well-being of caste oppressed students matter.
"From derogatory comments about the intellect of oppressed caste students, to proudly narrating their activism against affirmative action in India prior to their admission into Harvard to a complete cultural monopoly of South Asian/India celebrations, the deep sense of alienation, humiliation, and social exclusion I experienced made me constantly vigilant and worried about the consequences of being outed as a Dalit in Harvard's South Asian circles,” Muthu said.
However, Dr. Yengde said, "This should not be interpreted as my opposition to the success."
(With PTI Inputs)