Why Manish Kumar is raising awareness about the caste system

Photo of Manish Kumar next to an image of the UBC Okanagan campus.

Pronouns: He / him

UBC affiliation: Graduate student

Campus: UBC Okanagan

Faculty: Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies

Department: Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies Program – Community Engagement, Social Change and Equity


  • Inclusion Project Assistant, Equity & Inclusion Office
  • Equity Ambassador, Equity & Inclusion Office
  • Graduate Student Community Facilitator, Student Experience Office

How have you been involved in advancing equity, diversity and inclusion at UBC?

My journey with the UBC Okanagan (UBCO) Equity & Inclusion Office (EIO) started with my role as a volunteer Equity Ambassador, which then led to my student employment as an Inclusion Project Assistant. One of my main objectives in connecting with the EIO was to raise awareness at UBCO about the impacts of the Indian caste system. My interest emerged from an experience where I was asked about my caste-based identity at a cultural event organized by Indian students. I was surprised at being asked this question in Canada and specifically at UBC.

Due to this experience, and given the growing number of South Asian – and especially Indian – students, staff and faculty members at UBC, I decided to raise awareness of the impacts of the caste system and find ways to get caste included in UBC’s Discrimination Policy (SC7).

Since the policy reflects British Columbia’s Human Rights Code, any amendment requires creating a petition and gaining the support of various public and private institutions, agencies and community members – a process that requires time and resources. As a graduate student with competing demands and limited time, I instead focused on creating spaces and opportunities for the UBC community to learn more about and discuss the implications of the Indian caste system in the context of human rights.

As a result, I was invited to discuss the caste system at the 2023 Dr. Ambedkar International Symposium on Emancipation – an event hosted on the UBC Vancouver campus and organized by the Chetna Association of Canada and Ambedkarite International Co-Ordination Society. I also engaged with EIO-led events and workshops under the guidance of Jenica Frisque. Jenica deeply influenced and shaped my personal education and understanding of equity and inclusion-related subjects at UBCO, and how they shape our world around us.

Moving forward, I feel deeply committed and inspired to keep striving to build a more inclusive and equitable society beyond the notion of “othering”.

For those who wish to learn more about the caste system in India, I recommend that they watch a documentary called India Untouched: Stories of a People Apart [links to Youtube]. The film explains the ways in which the caste system has led to a deeply embedded praxis of “graded inequality” and discrimination within Indian society.

What are your key takeaways from this experience?

I found out that both learning and (un)learning are equally important on this path of building an inclusive, equitable and just society. Also, “Truth always comes before reconciliation”.

What advice would you give to someone interested in doing similar work?

I believe that volunteering is not only a great way to connect with campus and community partners, but with individuals who could inspire and shape our lives differently. Also, it is important to acknowledge that our personal and lived experiences are different from one another and is what makes us all unique. Therefore, it is critical to be mindful and receptive of our differences while communicating with each other.

What resources helped you navigate your EDI journey?

If someone is passionate and wants to learn more about EDI work then I recommend exploring the resources on the UBC Equity & Inclusion Office’s website, and signing up to their newsletter for events and workshops where they can meet and connect with amazing community members, students and campus partners.

What book, film or podcast would you recommend to others and why?

Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out by Ruth King. In Ruth’s words, “racism is a heart disease, and it’s curable!”