British Columbia

Indian caste system in Canada called 'a disease' worse than racism

Varinder Dabri is a veterinarian who has lived in Canada for more than 15 years. Yet despite his professional accomplishments, he says he still feel discrimination because of his so called “lower caste.”

‘It’s in their blood and they carry it with them all the time,’ says B.C. veterinarian

Despite being highly educated, Richmond, B.C., veterinarian Varinder Dabri says he still feels the scorn of some other Indo-Canadians because of his low-caste background. (Jason D'Souza)

This interview was part of CBC Radio One's four-part series 'Bharat in BC' highlighting the 100 year journey of South Asians in B.C.

When Banta Singh first arrived in Vancouver in 1930 from India as an 18-year-old, one thing became quickly clear for him — discrimination existed in Canada, but not to the level it did in his native land.

"I liked it here a lot. In India, we were poor but here I could work and afford decent groceries," he told Mehfil Magazine in an interview in 1997. "I was able to become self sufficient rather than depending on my parents. There was a little discrimination by the white people but nothing compared to what we do to the lower caste in India."

An early South Asian settler to Canada, Banta Singh says he felt the discrimination towards his community was not as bad as how the upper caste treated the lower in India. (Mehfil Magazine)

It's been over 60 years since the Indian government officially abolished the caste system upon gaining independence from Britain. Despite that, some South Asian Canadians say they are still feeling the effects of the discriminatory system.

"You can call it a disease that has no cure. It's a kind of cancer and it's killing the society," Varinder Dabri told the CBC.

Dabri, a veterinarian who works at the Dear Animal Hospital in Richmond, B.C., says back in India, he comes from a so-called "lower caste." Despite being highly educated and having a respectable job, he says it's that status that defines him for other Indo-Canadian individuals who still subscribe to the archaic hierarchical system.

According to Dabri, the caste system is still being taught to young people in Canada from elders in their household.

"They're telling their kids to not marry a person to a lower caste. There was one girl I worked with from a so-called upper caste and when I told her I am from a lower caste she didn't believe it. She said 'no, no they're dirty and filthy and don't have a good education.'"

Dabri says that when he moved to Canada more than 15 years ago, he never imagined the caste system would follow him here. He says it's even worse than racism.

"Racism is discrimination between parallel races, but the caste system has levels. Upper caste people can make a lower caste person's life miserable, but the lower caste person can't react back because of the society."

"People who come from India bring the caste with them. It's in their blood and they carry it with them all the time."

Perhaps Dabri's most damning indictment of the caste system is that he doesn't see a change within attitudes anytime soon.

"There is no solution. The only way out is if you get a good education and change your name."


To hear more, click the audio labelled: Caste system still doing harm from some Indo-Canadians.

To read other stories of South Asian pioneers, download Mehfil Magazine's digital commemorative book '100 Year Journey' at www.100yearjourney.com.

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