Anupama Rao champions non-discrimination caste policy at Barnard

The new policy would ensure every member of the college community is protected from bias and discrimination arising through caste and social hierarchies.

Anupama Rao helped formulate the new Non-discrimination policy at Barnard College / (Image - Bernard College)

In an effort to combat discrimination and bias of all kinds on campus, Columbia University’s Barnard College recently revised its Notice of Non-Discrimination to include "caste" as a protected category.

Anupama Rao, professor of history and director of Barnard's Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, championed the policy, which will be carried out by the Office of Nondiscrimination and Title IX of CARES.

According to Barnard, all members of the College community will benefit from the new provision, which is aimed at preventing bias and discrimination based on a person's caste background(s), especially those with historical ties to areas where caste hierarchies have significantly influenced social interactions.

“Caste affects the lives of 1.9 billion people, or one-fourth of the global population — cutting across continents, geopolitical boundaries, religions, and diasporas,” said Rao. “Communities with deep histories of organizing to annihilate caste have been at the forefront of efforts to bring caste within the ambit of anti-discrimination policy.”

Commenting on why adding “caste” is necessary for promoting social justice, Rao said, “I believe that the caste clause encourages the College to continue to figure out how to make space for international underrepresented minorities (URM) and first-generation learners on our campus.”

She further said that casteism's pervasiveness in South Asia makes its presence in American society and the workplace unsurprising. Even if there is widespread ignorance of caste in the United States, South Asian social and professional networks ensure that privilege and disadvantage are perpetuated here.

Rao, the author of The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India, is also a member of the faculty of Columbia University's Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS), where she directs the Ambedkar Initiative and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society.