Caste in Canada: The Unheard Stories of Dalit Canadians (2020-23)

Photograph of interview with Manjit and Surjit Bains, with Dr. Anne Murphy, Feb 2023. Courtesy of Jai Birdi, Chetna Association of Canada.

This project inaugurates a new oral history research program among university and community partners that investigates Dalit (those deemed “untouchables” in the caste system of South Asia) individual and community histories within Canada’s past and present. The research focuses on the lower mainland of British Columbia, with special attention to locations where Dalits have established religious, cultural, social and political organizations. The project involves the completion of a series of interviews with Canadians of Dalit background to document their histories, experiences, and understanding of the implications of caste in Canada. These interviews will, if permission is granted, be made public on a project website and cIRcle, UBC library’s content management system.

Dalit stories are often overlooked in the broader public imagination and historical and social science research; this oral history program represents an important first step towards the inclusion of the Dalit experience in our understanding of the South Asian Canadian, and particularly Punjabi Canadian, experience.

The Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha is a Dalit religious institution. Photo courtesy of Anita Lal.

Primary Investigators: Dr. Anne Murphy (UBC) and Dr. Suraj Yengde (Oxford)

Community Partners: The Chetna Association of Canada

Additional Academic Partner: South Asian Studies Institute, University of the Fraser Valley

Supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Engage grant, with additional support from the Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation and the Centre for India and South Asia Research (UBC).

This project builds on a set of partnerships that has, since 2017, sponsored the Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture at UBC and SFU. Partners in that project include the Institute of Humanities, SFU; the Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation; the Chetna Association of Canada, and, at UBC, the Centre for India and South Asia Research; the Institute of Asian Research/School of Public Policy and Global Affairs; The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhism and Contemporary Society; the Department of Asian Studies, and the Department of History.