Caste discrimination continues its journey – now within the Australian diaspora

11th February 2021

It was great news to hear that Australia, back in 2018, passed a motion to urge the government to take action on fighting caste-based discrimination. It requested that, amongst more international aims, the government considered interventions in inclusive recruitment practice and management practice in all business partners.

ABC National Radio recently broadcast a programme about caste-based discrimination amongst the South Asian diaspora in Australia. Disturbingly, there were many echoes of the forms that caste-based discrimination manifests here in the UK. As academic and filmmaker Vikrant Kishore says, ‘caste goes where South Asians go… Australia is no exception’. And while some South Asians in Australia take great pride in their ‘dominant’ caste – such as personalising their car license plates – others find the obsession with finding out people’s surnames (and thus their caste) deeply uncomfortable.

There are, of course, the typical stories that we’ve come to recognise throughout the diaspora, such as being evicted from rental apartments after their South Asian landlord found out the occupant was a Dalit, or refusing to let Dalits enter their house or eat food that they have touched. And much as with the dating app in the UK, an Australian dating app called Dil Mil allows filters to match within ‘dominant’ castes but has no options for ‘lower’ caste groups. Even in the big cities, casteist slurs can be heard.

Perhaps one of the saddest stories is that of a man from Cairns whose father-in-law passed away. They were unable to find a priest to conduct the last rites, and certainly not one that would enter the house. In the end they found someone from Adelaide who gave directions over the phone as to how to perform the ritual. Even in death, casteism shows a disturbing lack of humanity.

Yes, this was a damning report on the situation in Australia, but what should give us hope was that the documentary maker herself came from an upper middle-class Asian background and had come to the realisation that her privileged position had made her blind to the casteism that surrounded her.

Recently we at DSN-UK have been approached by and are talking to others in the UK, previously caste-blind, now making strides both to educate themselves and raise awareness. We look forward to the day when rather than denying that caste-based discrimination exists, ‘dominant’ castes accept that they have been lucky enough to avoid the suffering that Dalits have endured, accept their role in its persistence and start working towards its abolishment.