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The topic was particularly timely. Gender is one of the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010. More recently, the British Parliament made ‘Caste’ based discrimination illegal. Business Secretary Vince Cable said ‘Caste’ would in future be treated as "an aspect of race". The government has asked the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission to examine the nature of caste prejudice and harassment, and consider what other action might be helpful.

The event, convened by Dr. Sushrut Jadhav and Dr. Caroline Selai, Co-directors, UCL CCS and supported by UCL Grand Challenge of Intercultural Interaction, comprised presentations from two visiting guest speakers, Prof. Shubhada Maitra (supported by the International Teaching Excellence bursary, Office of Vice Provost International) & Prof. Avatthi Ramaiah, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India. Panel contributors included Prof. Nick Tyler, UCL Pro Provost (East and South Asia), Prof. Xiao Guo, Pro-Provost ( China, Hong Kong & Macau), Dr Ian Scott, Convenor, UCL Grand Challenges, and two UCL PhD students: Mr Nanda Kannuri and Ms Yemi Oloyede.

Why Caste & Gender?
The grand round addressed the questions: Why does our gender or caste - as teachers or students - matter? How are our experiences of teaching and learning shaped, enhanced and challenged by the interplay of our own characteristics such as gender or caste and by those of our teachers? How are these influenced by the wider culture of an academic department or discipline, the culture of the university as a forum for learning and teaching, and by society?

Over 100 participants from UCL and wider society attended. A lively discussion ensued, covering themes such as: can a teacher instruct / advise students about their personal relationships? Is caste integral to Hinduism? Should we black-list Hinduism since it is in contravention of human rights? What about sexuality and sexual-orientation? Is Caste-ism a social and psychological pathology? Why do many Dalit’s convert to Christianity & Buddhism? How does conversion help? How can we extend these critical social and ethical issues from higher education to a wider society?

Audience members deeply appreciated UCL for hosting this discussion as it could not have taken place in India, and for providing a space of cultural safety. There were expressions of interest in pursuing higher research degrees and also in collaborating on research projects around Caste.

Next steps
Based on the success of this event, and the enthusiasm, energy and resultant intellectual stimulation, the UCL CCS aims to (i) continue with termly Grand Rounds; (ii) generate research projects emanating from this discussion; (iii) bid for a UCL Prize Workshop on Caste.

Dr Caroline Selai & Dr Sushrut Jadhav
July 2013 

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