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A peep into Australia's South Asians obsessed with finding out each other's caste

There appears to be no end to South Asians settling abroad taking with them their casteist, anti-Dalit mindset – a fact brought to light by Deepak Joshi, a Facebook friend who lives in Melbourne, Australia. Joshi has shared on his Facebook timeline an article published in the ABC Radio National site titled “They've left South Asia, but they can't escape the discrimination and division of its caste system” authored by Karishma Luthria. It is actually a first person blog.
What is shocking is, and this is what Joshi is particularly concerned about – that after he shared this article in a Facebook group called ‘Indians in South East Melbourne’, not only was the article removed by the Facebook administrators stating that it encouraged ‘Hate Speech or Bullying’. Joshi himself has been barred from commenting in the group!
The Facebook group has 16.8 thousand members. Its very first post, authored by one of the two admins of the group, states, “Any accusations on elected government without legal proof will not be entertained here. If you want to talk about elected government then please stay away from this group. If you have legal proof go to the court as this is not a court.”
Taking down the article, the group admins appear to believe that criticising caste discrimination among diaspora is a violation of their group's following rule: “Make sure everyone feels safe. Bullying of any kind isn't allowed, and degrading comments about things such as race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, gender or identity will not be tolerated.”
Be that as it may, reproduced below is Luthria’s article, which seeks to suggest how casteism has kicking among the South Asian diaspora, especially from India and Nepal:
***
When I was at university, another South Asian asked me what my caste was.
I replied that I didn't know.
But as Jasbeer Mustafa, an academic from Western Sydney University, told me: "If you don't know your caste, it's most likely you're upper caste."
As a new migrant to Australia I was surprised when I learnt caste discrimination exists in a country so far removed geographically and culturally from South Asia.
I grew up in Mumbai, and it wasn't until the Dalit Lives Matter movement was retriggered by the murder of a Dalit in India last September that I started to question the caste system and the role I played in it.
I was curious to know more about how casteism impacts people in Australia, so I started speaking to a number of migrants who had first-hand experience with the caste system.
Melbourne-based academic and filmmaker Vikrant Kishore says "caste goes where South Asians go".
"Australia is no exception," Dr Kishore says.
He says some South Asians in Australia even personalise their car's number plate to display their caste pride.
"It is all about the privilege, it's all about boasting of their background," he says.
"Most of the Australians, they wouldn't even be knowing what it is doing — but Indians generally know what the person is trying to announce to the world."
Aparna Ramteke, a human resources professional, Dalit woman and advocate for Dalit rights, says diaspora South Asians in Australia can be obsessed with finding out each other's caste.
She says it is common for Indians who meet in Australia to end their conversation by asking each other their last name.
"Why are we asking the last name – to understand which caste system you come from. It's such a casual discrimination," she says.
"It's just amazing to note how intricately this has divided people on the basis of the caste system."
San Kumar Gazmere changed his last name when he arrived in Australia to avoid caste discrimination among the Nepalese community in Cairns.
In Australia, Mr Gazmere manages a fast food restaurant and remembers when he first moved here people from the community laughed at his surname.
"Some Nepalese people … pronounce it in a very weird voice, and they yell really loudly with that name," Mr Gazmere says.
"We feel embarrassed because people who had that last name have got bad memories and bad experiences."
Mr Gazmere says people from his caste are not allowed into people's homes in Nepal — and in Australia too.
"They keep dogs, cats, everything inside the house, but they don't let people go inside because of only that [their] last name."

Those who can evade discrimination, and those who can't

I'm Sindhi, and Sindhis don't follow a typical caste hierarchy -- rather, we divide ourselves on class lines.
That's why when I asked my dad recently what caste we were, he was really vague about it.
He said we might be Vasihyas -- the traders -- due to our family's history of running businesses.
This confused me even more. If I'm not as high up in the hierarchy, how am I able to evade the impacts of the caste system?
Ms Ramteke says because of her professional HR job, she has not experienced typical caste discrimination in Australia.
"Somebody who has got a good house, a good family, they wouldn't talk about the caste system," she says.
She says in cases such as hers, any discrimination is not in your face, but behind your back.
But for recently arrived migrants from lower castes, casteism is not that subtle.
A Nepali Dalit man, who wanted to remain anonymous, told me he was evicted from his rental in Brisbane after the owner, an upper caste Nepali, found out he was an "untouchable".
When he complained about the eviction, the owner told him to shut up, and that he should be ashamed about not disclosing his caste.
Girish Makwana
Melbourne filmmaker Girish Makwana had a similar experience as an international student in Australia.
"[The landlord] asked me: 'Where are you from, what's your caste?' And then very nicely just brushed me off," he says.
Mr Makwana then found out that the landlord had accepted five other applicants, but not him, because he is a Dalit.
"Later one of the guys living there told me it's because they have a protocol in their house. Then I decided I will not live with any Indians any more."

Dating outside of your caste

Caste also seeps into our dating lives. There is a dating app called Dil Mil, which means meeting of hearts.
The app has a filter option allowing those from top tier caste groups to find matches within their own caste — but there are no options for lower caste groups.
Rather than a meeting of hearts, it is more a meeting of castes.
On finding this out, it made me ill-at-ease. Are young South Asians so obsessed with caste that we come up with apps by upper castes for upper castes?
Kushal, whose name I have changed to provide anonymity, is a Nepalese migrant in Tasmania who fell in love with an upper caste girl.
"After a few years, maybe, her parents figured it out," he says.
Her family would not let them get married.
"She was beaten by her parents, saying that: 'Why do you want to stay in a relationship with those kinds of people?'"
They ran away together, but Kushal says there was no respite.
"Her parents used to call her, saying, 'Come back, we'll find a better guy for you.'"

'They didn't want to drink water while I was there'

Birkha Diyali, a Bishwakarma, the Nepalese equivalent of an untouchable, lives in Cairns.
"There's a lot of caste-based discrimination in Cairns," he says. "The Brahmins don't eat what we touch and they won't let us enter their houses."
When his father-in-law passed away in 2012, they were unable to find a priest to conduct his last rites.
"We thought the Brahmin priests could perform the ritual, without coming into our house but they refused," he says. "All they offered was a very short naming ceremony."
"Eventually we found a priest from Adelaide who directed me over the phone to perform the ritual. I felt it wasn't my father-in-law who died, it was me who was dying."
His wife Pabitra Diyali says this sort of discrimination is not an isolated experience in Australia.
"I was sitting with someone from a higher caste on the same couch and they didn't want to drink water while I was there. She said it was her culture," she says.
Sydney businessman Gokulan Gopal is from a caste that the Indian government categorises as "backward".
He says Hinduism "is at the core" of the caste system.
One of Hinduism's sacred and earliest texts, Manusmriti, identifies caste as a way to order society. The book is also considered to be the source of Hindu law, and governs key aspects of Hindu life from marriage, and occupation to location.
"For me, I don't accept Hinduism anymore," Mr Gopal says.
One of his first experiences of caste discrimination was at a temple as a teenager.
He was strongly reprimanded for entering the kitchen, a place priests consider pure. A place where someone like Mr Gopal was unwelcome.
Because of the systemic nature of casteist discrimination, in the 1950s, India's first Dalit lawmaker, Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar, encouraged Dalits to adopt Buddhism.
"He said, 'I've studied all the other religious books, and this religion [Buddhism] offers equality, brotherhood, compassion,'" Ms Ramteke says.
Ms Ramteke is an Ambedkarite —a follower of Dr Ambedkar.
"And that's what we practice, where everybody is treated equally, fair and square," she says.
Dr Ambedkar's contributions are largely ignored in modern Indian society.

Dalit Lives Matter

For some global South Asian communities, Dalit Lives Matter dominated 2020 just as much as Black Lives Matter.
The movement was reignited by the alleged rape and murder of Manisha Valmiki in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, by four upper caste men. It reminded many of the discrimination that lower caste communities have faced for thousands of years.
Ms Ramteke was a speaker at a vigil for Ms Valmiki in Parramatta. She believes Indians don't support Dalit causes because there is stigma attached to it.
"People are a bit ashamed, because I think supporting a Dalit is below [their] dignity," she says.
"They don't want to associate with that. There is a reason for it, because there is no human life value to it.
"If people are not ready to talk about it, people like us should be the voice of the voiceless."
As I heard stories of discrimination in Australia -- my privilege as an upper-middle-class Indian kept coming back to me. I wondered what my role is and was in perpetuating the caste system.
I remember as a teenager in India, my friends and I used casteist abuses towards each other.
For example, we used the word "Bhangi" to call each other dirty, but we didn't realise its origin was as a derogatory term directed at Dalits.
I even heard a relative of mine say it recently in Sydney. I told them not to use it, but to no avail.
Dr Kishore says he's heard such abuses used by prominent community members in Melbourne.
He says these same people post on social media about Black Lives Matter but don't recognise their own double standards.
Karishma Luthria
"You talk about racism. Good. You want to talk about Black Lives Matter. Good. Have you talked about yourself and your own prejudices? No, then get lost. You need to get schooled."
In 1950, the Indian constitution outlawed untouchability and caste discrimination. But it did not outlaw the entire caste system itself.
Quoting Dr Ambedkar, Dr Kishore says we need to get rid of the caste system, now more than ever.
"Turn in any direction you like, caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill the monster."
Dr Kishore made me realise that I am that person of colour who complains about racism in Australia.
And much like white guilt, I have guilt for never questioning my privilege until Black and Dalit Lives Matter in 2020, for never calling out casteism whenever I came across it in my social circles and for never standing up against it.
But now, after speaking to people who are strong, and resilient fighters against the insidious nature of the culture I grew up in — I can't stay as silent as I used to.
---
Slightly abridged

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