Hindu professors sue Cal over ban on caste discrimination

Two Hindu professors are suing the head of their university system for opposing the addition of caste to an anti-discrimination policy amid wider battle over whether colleges should express caste-based biases explicitly.

The professors of the California State University system argue that mentioning caste as a protected characteristic is unfairly aimed at Hindus and wrongly suggests that oppression and discrimination are among the core tenets of Hinduism. Sunil Kumar and Praveen Sinha argue in the complaint, filed Monday, that Hinduism is about compassion and equanimity — principles that directly contradict a discriminatory caste system.

“We are completely and vehemently opposed to all forms of prejudice and discrimination,” Kumar said in a statement announcing the federal lawsuit, previously reported by Religion News Service. “But in CSU’s interim policy, all Indian and Hindu staff and students are singled out just because we are Indian and Hindu. This is by definition discrimination and a denial of our basic civil rights.”

Caste is a social hierarchy that people are assigned at birth. Dalits, sometimes pejoratively referred to as “untouchables,” face prejudice and violence in South Asian countries, despite laws against caste discrimination. In India, the caste system originally applied to Hindus, but now applies to people of different religions.

California State, the nation’s largest four-year public university system, announced in January that it had added caste to its anti-discrimination policy after years of Dalit activism. The policy now identifies caste as a subcategory of race and ethnicity.

That university system followed the lead of several other colleges, including Brandeis University and Colby College, which have made caste a protected trait in recent years as younger Hindus increasingly argue against caste-based bias. Lower-caste Hindus in the United States often report micro-aggressions aimed at revealing their caste status, said Dheepa Sundaram, a professor of Hindu studies at the University of Denver.

California state officials did not immediately respond to a report from The Washington Post, but spokeswoman Toni Molle told Religion News Service that adding caste to anti-discrimination policies “reflects the university’s commitment to inclusiveness and respect, ensuring that all our 23 CSU campuses are always a place of access, opportunity and equality for all.”

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However, the mention of caste as a protected characteristic is controversial among some Hindus. The DC-based Hindu American Foundation, which represents California state professors, says the university system is wrongly targeting Hinduism and has no right at all to define the religion, let alone as a discriminatory faith. .

Suhag Shukla, the foundation’s executive director, said no other California policies “demonize” another religion, ethnic group, or race — a fact that means that members of the Hindu community are denied equal protection under the law.

“CSU has turned non-discrimination on its head by adding a category that defines it as inherent in an already deprived community and only controls that community — Indian and Hindu students and educators,” Shukla said in an email.

In their lawsuit, Kumar and Sinha point to times when the California state government has referred to caste in conjunction with Hinduism; they say those cases bolster their argument that making caste a protected feature is aimed at Hindus.

Kumar, an engineering professor at San Diego State University, and Sinha, an accounting professor at California State University in Long Beach, also said they do not identify as belonging to any caste. They said they are concerned that the university system will assign them a caste for assessing discrimination cases.

India’s engineers have done well in Silicon Valley. The same goes for his caste system.

Opinions on naming caste as a protected trait tend to diverge along the lines of age and immigration status, Sundaram said, with immigrants being less likely to support such a move than Hindus whose families have been in the past for generations. United States living. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 9 in 10 American Hindus are immigrants. But Sundaram said many younger Hindus have formed alliances with other affinity groups, such as Black Lives Matter, and are more likely to declare caste discrimination.

Sundaram, who advocates making caste a protected trait, said criticizing Hinduism — even in a country where Hindus are a minority — is unrelated to promoting Hindu phobia. She said most discrimination against Hindus is based on the fact that many are South Asian, rather than on their religion, and that Hindu phobia is not a widespread problem.

In particular, she said she disagrees with the Hindu American Foundation’s argument that caste is not fundamental to Hinduism.

“You can definitely recognize this as part of the tradition and fight back against it, but to claim it doesn’t exist in the tradition is just false,” Sundaram said. “There’s just no way to really prove that.”

The Hindu American Foundation was one of the advocacy groups last year protesting an online academic conference on Hindu nationalism, a right-wing political movement linked to India. Protesters sent nearly a million emails to universities, arguing that the event was Hindu-phobic. The HAF then said the conference promoted activists who support “extremist movements” and deny the “resulting genocides of Hindus”.

The foundation has also objected to a lawsuit filed by California regulators on behalf of an engineer at the tech company Cisco alleging that his upper-caste executives failed to promote him because he is a Dalit. The HAF argued that the discrimination claim falsely suggests that Hinduism is inherently discriminatory.

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