Caste System or Racial Discrimination?

Image by Nicolas Krebs


By: Edmund Laldin

Racial injustice and systematic racism in Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) came up in a recent conversation with a friend. We discussed the causes, symptoms, and perhaps the cure of this horrible sickness in society and in the ACC. We expressed the following two positions because of our heritage and background:

• Caucasians were colonizers and have to repent and seek reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and new Canadians.
• While many Caucasians have apologised for their actions, they can only solve the problem by empowering and delegating decision-making to Indigenous Peoples and visible minorities.

The first position submits that Caucasians should feel remorse and lead the way forward because of the sin of colonialism. While this repentance is noble, it is still neo-colonialism because Caucasians remain in authority and are engaged for self-serving reasons. Moreover, Caucasians who dominate decision-making positions are positioned to think, speak, and decide for everyone.

One alternative involves power-sharing so that those discriminated against are empowered to lead the discussions and discern solutions. Although intellectually, this concept sounds good – practically, it is impossible to achieve until the difference between race and caste is discussed and caste replaces race in societal and ecclesiastical discourse. In other words, I argue that discrimination should be discussed through the lens of the caste system instead of racial superiority or inferiority.

Racism is the scientifically false belief that groups of humans possess different behavioural traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be divided based on the superiority of one race over another. It may also mean prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against others because they are of different races or ethnicities.

A caste is a form of social stratification characterised by endogamy, hereditary transmission of a style of life, which often includes an occupation, ritual status in a hierarchy, and day-to-day social interaction and exclusion based on cultural notions of purity and pollution. Its paradigmatic ethnographic example is the division of India’s Hindu society into rigid social groups, with roots in India’s ancient history and persisting to the present time. As a subject of many sociologists and anthropologists, the Hindu caste system is sometimes used as an analogical basis for studying caste-like social divisions outside Hinduism and India.

Racism and the caste system have many similarities and both systems overlap and intersect. However, the differences between the two are significant to this discussion. First, racism and race are directly related to, and depend on, a society’s context and socio-political-ethnic formation. By contrast, caste is permanent and transfers from one context to another as it transcends cultures, socio-political dynamics, and theological and philosophical positions. Second, an oppressed race in one culture can be the dominant race in another culture. For example, South Asians are oppressed in the Global North but enjoy autonomy and respect in their countries of origin.

Furthermore, socio-political change in the context can exalt the oppressed in power. South Africa, for example, experienced power transfer and transformation of racial identity and the end of apartheid because of the will of the dominant culture. Second, lower castes can never assume to be in power regardless of the authority, status or appointments members of the caste may achieve and enjoy. Third, racial tensions can be discussed, eased, and diminished. Caste cannot be replaced, shrunk, or changed because caste is linked to the place in society of one’s family of origin and is transferable from one context to another.

White privilege, or white skin privilege, is the societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people in some societies. With roots in European colonialism, imperialism, and the Atlantic slave trade, white privilege has developed in circumstances that have broadly sought to protect white racial privileges, various national citizenships, and other rights or unique benefits. White privilege denotes obvious and less apparent passive advantages that white people may not recognise, distinguishing it from overt bias or prejudice. These include cultural affirmations of one’s worth, presumed more excellent social status, and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely. The effects can be seen in professional, educational, and personal contexts. White privilege also is expressed through the assumption that one’s experiences are universal, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as usual.

It should be noted that Caucasians often conscientiously appeal to ‘white privilege’ as a denunciation of their past actions. However, the sad reality is that, because of white guilt, they can inadvertently use that privilege to chart the parameters and lines of communication in future racial relations to accept or reject other persons, races, opinions, or convictions. In other words, white guilt encourages and inspires Caucasians to rectify their past actions through imposing new decisions and practices.

The Anglican Church of Canada’s governing Caucasians may refute this by pointing to Indigenous ministries at the National Level, various task forces to end racial and sexual discrimination, and their commitment to having ethnically diverse volunteer and paid leadership in power corridors.

This claim should be examined through racial harmony’s evolution (devolution) in American and Canadian society. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s brought forth constitutional changes in the United States of America. While the election of Senator Barak Obama as the President of the United States was a momentous occasion, it failed to strengthen racial relationships and change prevalent attitudes towards African Americans and Law Enforcement Agencies still harass and kill Black people. Ethnic minorities, regardless of their religion or country of origin, are perceived as enemies of the state, and conspiracy theorists still question former President Obama’s birth certificate. Caucasian Americans are divided on indiscriminate violence and harassment of African Americans based on their political and religious persuasions.

Discussions, task forces, patronising of the other, and changes to the canons and constitution will undoubtedly make the group(s) in power feel good about themselves. However, it will never address the discrimination and marginalisation of the other. Human Rights Advocates have pointed out ways in which, particularly in the hiring process, biases, assumptions, and preconceived notions are integrated into an interview process to tilt the balance in favour of a privileged candidate. This careful undermining of BIPOC candidates’ experiences and qualifications can be shattering to their confidence.

In the Anglican Church of Canada, the caste system is embedded by the practice of Caucasians in power. They are viewed as the superior race because of their doctrine, dogma, expression of faith, and belief that everyone, regardless of their race, has to agree with them. There is no room for dissent, discussion, or compromise. Either one agrees, setting aside their personal beliefs, or is cast aside. The elite would like to be diverse, but have deliberately decided that BIPOC people should have the same mindset to be hired at the executive level. Regardless of self-adulation for being just, Caucasian elites of the Anglican Church of Canada have caused irreparable damage to others. While they believe they are not being racist or discriminatory, they have created standards and expectations that exclude many diverse voices who do not fully agree with them.

The Anglican Church of Canada must decide whether it wants to be truly inclusive, or if it will just maintain the status quo. If the answer is ‘inclusive,’ then the elite must address the ‘caste system’ through self-introspection, and honest and vulnerable evaluation of oppressive structures to determine how they have nurtured and guarded it. Second, they must afford dissenting voices, respect and space at the table instead of marginalising and disregarding their theological positions and opinions. Third, they must make a conscious effort to integrate various castes and invite lower caste members to join them in rebuilding the structure and the church. This way, the ACC will move from perceiving unity in uniformity to embracing unity in diversity.




Edmund Laldin was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. His father is a retired priest of the church in Pakistan, and his mother is a retired teacher. Edmund faced religious persecution and discrimination from a very young age. He was involved in his Church’s youth group and had a keen interest in Liberation Theology. In 1991, Edmund emigrated to Canada. In 1995, he was ordained in the ACC. Edmund has served parishes on the Lower North Shore of Quebec, Newfoundland and Winnipeg.

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