Toronto school board recognises caste oppression

Yalini Rajakulasingam

The school board in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, has voted in favour of a motion on caste oppression, and has refered the matter of such discrimination to the human rights authorities in the province of Ontario to assess it.

The motion was approved based on a 16 to 5 vote.

The motion stipulates that the director of the District School Board (TDSB) will “file an application with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) to request that they assess and provide a framework for addressing caste oppression in a public education context”.

The original motion, passed on February 8 by the TDSB’s Governance and Policy Committee had sought that a two-phased plan to address caste oppression be implemented within the system itself.

Trustee Yalini Rajakulasingam, who moved the motion, told the board meeting on Wednesday that referring it to the OHRC will show that this phenomenon impacts communities across the province. She stressed the motion was “not about division but creating healing”.

Among those who opposed the motion was trustee Weidong Pei, who asserted there was no data to support the motion and TDSB staff had informed him this was a “non-issue”.

Weidong Pei

The motion stated that caste-based oppression was “experienced by various faith communities” in the regions affected, including South Asia and the Caribbean, and there were “documented cases” in this regard in the “diaspora, including Toronto”.

TDSB is the largest school board in Canada, serving approximately 235,000 students in 583 schools.

Prior to the motion, a group of protesters gathered in front of the TDSB headquarters in Toronto where the motion was to be debated. They opposed the motion on the grounds that it was tantamount to “ethnic profiling” and sowed division within a minority community. Canadian Organisation for Hindu Heritage Education (COHHE), which opposed the motion, described the outcome as a “win”, arguing that such discrimination is already covered under “ancestry” under the OHRC and can only add a category if the provincial government does so. COHHE underscored it opposes any form of caste-based discrimination.

Following receipt of feedback from the OHRC, the TDSB director will present a report to the original committee, where the motion was first moved.