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Advocacy Group Fights India Caste System Discrimination in Silicon Valley

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- Santa Clara County's Human Rights Commission is tackling the thorny issue of caste discrimination in education and on the job in Silicon Valley.

"This is one of the oldest systems of oppression in the world," said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the Executive Director of Equality Labs.

Equality Labs is an advocacy group working on behalf the Dalit community who are more commonly known as India's Untouchables.

"Caste is a system of social exclusion that is similar but not the same as race. And if determines the whole of your life," explains Soundararajan.

For Soundararajan, the crusade against India's caste system is both principled and deeply personal. Her family is Dalit and immigrated to the United States to escape the rigid social hierarchy of their homeland.

"Many of our community who were oppressed fled to the U.S. to escape caste apartheid. But we never expected to see it recreated here," she said.

Regrettably, she says much of the bias and bigotry of that system was transplanted to the United States and has taken root in communities with large Indian-American populations like Silicon Valley.

"I have to use an alias for my own protection, so I'm not outed as a Dalit," says M. Bangar, a research coordinator at a Bay Area university who asked that KPIX not use their real name.

Several members of the Dalit community and their supporters are planning to address the Human Rights Commission to discuss their experiences with caste discrimination.

They want the commission to recommend that the Board of Supervisors make caste a legally protected category against discrimination like race, age, gender and sexual orientation.

"People who are caste oppressed deserve protection. We don't deserve to live hiding who we are and how we were born," said M. Bangar.

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