The Cal State University system has announced that they will be adding caste to their Interim CSU Policy Prohibiting Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, Sexual Exploitation, Dating Violence, Domestic Violence, Stalking, and Retaliation issued on January 1, 2022.
According to Mike Uhlenkamp, Senior Director of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs for the CSU Chancellor’s Office, caste was always inherently a part of the policies. Specifically naming Caste in the policy was to reflect the importance of inclusivity.
“The university’s commitment to inclusivity and respect, making certain each and every one of our 23 CSU campuses today is a place of access, opportunity, and equity for all,” said Uhlenkamp.
One organization that had a part during this is the Jakara Movement after organizers from equality labs reached out asking for organizers to join them. Harveen Kaur, the Kern County Community organizer for the Jakar Movement explained that they would sit in meetings that lasted for hours just waiting for their turn to explain why this is important to them.
“As an organizer who works for a Sikh organization, we completely denounce caste and any kind of system that is gonna perpetuate harm to marginalized communities is definitely not what we stand for. We immediately hopped onto the project and helped in any capacity,” said Kaur.
Kaur describes caste as an old and oppressive system in India and other countries that created a hierarchy that justifies oppression in different communities. She went on to explain that people who understand the system can identify what caste someone is from based on their last name.
Kaur explained that she is most familiar with the way the system works in India and the system was originally greeted to identify what your occupation was.
In 1699 Guru Gobind Singh denounced casteism in Punjab India.
“When they declared that we are all equal despite gender, despite caste affiliation. We’re not even going to pay attention to caste. They did it so much so; our Gurus and anyone that was Sikh did it so much so at the time that we denounced our last names,” said Kaur.
Although caste was denounced a long time ago it still is prevalent today in the United States and other countries. Kaur said seeing this policy implemented in the CSU system is a huge win for the community.
When Kaur was 21 she decided not to affiliate with caste and changed her last name from her caste name. She explained that when people do this women typically switch to Kaur meaning queen and men switch to Singh meaning King.
“It’s really just about embracing our individual power but also our collective power because every time someone makes the conscious decision to disaffiliate with their last name and say, you know what imma be an ally to different communities and even my own community,” said Kaur.
Kaur changed her last name after learning more and working with the Jakara Movement. She did not want the biases good or bad that came with her caste-affiliated last name.
“My work with the Jakara movement inspired me to deepen my relationship with Sikhi,” said Kaur. “So, as I progressed and learned a little more about the teachings and how equality and equity; and more importantly equity, is emphasized in Sikhi that’s when I realized this is so much bigger than my individual name,”
She continued that changing her name to Kaur shows that she is inviting others and welcoming them equally.
“It was more so like a revolutionary moment for me. It was one of those core memories that got formed in my mind because, that was the moment that I was like okay the identity that I’ve known is still going to exist, that part of me is still there with my family of course because they’ve known me but for you folks, it’s me telling them I’m an ally, you can come to me and this is a safe space,” said Kaur.
Kaur encourages anyone that is facing caste-based discrimination to use the resources available and speak about their experiences. She said that she know it can be scary but there is no better time than now to stand up for yourself.
“Nobody’s caste defines their worth. You are worthy as is. You are worthy just as a human being nothing, no characteristic will define that. You’re priceless,” said Kaur.
Anyone from a CSU wanting to file a complaint involving Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, Sexual Exploitation, Dating Violence, Domestic Violence, Stalking, and Retaliation can fill out the CSU form found on their universities website. CSU Bakersfield site explains discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and links to the policy and executive orders regarding the policy along with the complaint form.