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The Fragility of the Caste-Oppression Hypothesis

Empty claims of caste discrimination in the West have damaging legal, reputational, and social consequences.

· 8 min read
The Fragility of the Caste-Oppression Hypothesis
Software developers, database administrators, technologists, front end developers, back end developers, many in the US on H1-B Visas to work, during a Town Hall company meeting in Bellevue, Washington, USA. Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

Claims of caste oppression provide a unique lens through which to witness a toxic combination of identity politics, their hijacking of academia, the aggressive pursuit of grievances, and the resulting encoding in laws and policies across institutions including universities. Fora dedicated to academic freedoms or criticism of identity politics have remarkably remained oblivious to this toxicity, perhaps indicating that they remain oblivious to—and even gullible towards—grievance claims when they presuppose some knowledge of cultural differences.

Indian emigrants to various lands around the world are showing similar socio-economic profiles. Whether in earlier places of settlement such as East Africa, or newer lands of the United Kingdom, the United States, or Australia, they are soon positioned on average in the higher socioeconomic categories.

Intergenerational mobility, which is a common but not inevitable feature of migrant groups, makes this positioning even more pronounced. Indians abroad are conversely underrepresented in negative indices such as reliance on state social-welfare systems or in prisons. Yet if the press coverage and the pronouncements by activists, academia, officials, and legislators are to be believed, they present a singular danger: caste discrimination against their fellow countrymen, which they bring over from their country of origin.

The favoured claim is that successful immigrants are from higher castes, and so benefit from privileges gained through the caste system. The barely hidden implication is that they have stepped upon their lower-caste countrymen to get where they are today. Their success, whether educational, professional, or entrepreneurial, has been accrued by oppression. Proponents of the caste-oppression hypothesis appear to believe that this is how one should look at the relationship between discrimination and the socioeconomic profiles of Indian immigrants.

These allegations have been routinely applied to justify the enactment of legislation against caste discrimination. This happened earlier in Britain, and it is visible in conjured-up charges of discrimination brought against tech company Cisco Systems and its managers. They were invoked when the Seattle City Council passed its municipal ordinance on caste in February 2023. One sees the same tropes surfacing in Australia, where a review is currently taking place of whether caste should be added to the country’s Racial Discrimination Act.

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