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Project February 25, 2019

Caste Discrimination in the USA: A Public Radio and Online Series

Dalit sewage cleaner, who is on the lowest rungs of so-called "untouchables." Image by Phillip Martin/WGBH News. India, 2019.
Dalit sewage cleaner, who is on the lowest rungs of so-called 'untouchables.' Image by Phillip Martin/WGBH News. India, 2019.

"Caste Discrimination in the USA" is an original WGBH/PRI's The World multi-part, multi-platform journalistic investigation into casteism in the United States and Canada.

It is an exploration into a form of theo-political stratification that manifest as discrimination against some, particularly so-called low caste South Asians and Dalit immigrants, and privilege and exclusivity for others. Dalits are a minority among nearly three-million Indians in the United States.

But even in the diaspora, away from the harsh realities that define everyday life for "untouchables" in India, Nepal, and elsewhere, the inherent bigotry of caste has followed. This according to various studies and Dalit scholars and buttressed by a recent national U.S. survey carried out by researchers at Equality Labs. Examples have included students who, allegedly after divulging their surnames, were in some instances denied housing. Many first and second-generation South Asians in the U.S. seem to agree that marriage among Indians is indisputably influenced by caste. Many job-hires and job placements, in high tech for example, are also reportedly influenced by caste prejudice, which in some cases, it is believed, may often represent the difference between those toiling in the kitchens of Indian restaurants in Boston, New York, or Houston, or at the helm of companies in Silicon Valley or Kendall Square, Cambridge. Dalits, in the most under-reported way, say they frequently encounter caste-based discrimination, for which there are no specific protections or references in U.S. constitutional law. But based on preliminary interviews, many middle-class Indians living in the U.S. do not believe that caste is an issue here.

By contrast caste is recognized as a major concern in the U.K., though efforts to impose legal prohibitions have hit a wall. This project take a closer look at on-going grassroots and parliamentary efforts to establish legal protections there and in Canada and the lessons for the United States.


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