Social reform and the caste system

The Center for Global Development and Sustainability hosts its annual conference on social exclusion in India and South Asia April 28-30

poverty cited by united nationsUnited Nations

A Dalit woman sweeps the street in Ahmedabad, in the western Indian state of Gujarat in 2015.

Scholars of caste—India’s longstanding, religiously-based system of social hierarchy—will gather at Brandeis to open the third annual conference on social exclusion in South Asia on Friday, April 28. The three-day event begins with a panel discussion featuring Roja Singh of St. John Fisher College, Sukhadeo Thorat, chair of the Indian Council for Social Science Research, and Cornel West of Harvard Divinity School.

Caste has always been a key research area of the Center for Global Development and Sustainability, which is hosting the conference. In recognition of the center’s commitment to this major human rights issue, on Saturday evening the Boston Study Group will dedicate a bust of B.R. Ambedkar, the politician and social reformer who is credited as the principal architect of the Indian Constitution, to Brandeis in the university library.

Caste segregates individuals at birth into predetermined social groups with Brahmins, who served society historically as academics and priests, at the top, while Dalits—previously known as “untouchables”—at the bottom performed menial work like street sweeping or cleaning sewers.

“Caste oppression is among the greatest human rights problems in the world,” GDS Director Laurence Simon explained recently in the Heller Social Policy Impact Report.  “It manifests itself regularly through gang rapes and lynching of Dalit women or through hundreds of ‘honour killings’ annually of Dalit boys and non-Dalit girls who run off to get married.

“Ultimately, India will have to get beyond caste as a determinant of opportunity and quality of life for millions of its citizens” Simon continued. “This is not easy. As we know, the legacy of slavery and ongoing racial discrimination in the U.S. continues to conflict with our own democratic ideals.  We’d like to make a mark in the world of scholarship on social exclusion and by its dissemination empower the tools of social activism in responsible ways.”

More information about this year’s conference is available on the center’s website.

Categories: General, Humanities and Social Sciences, International Affairs

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