By Dilip Amin, Ph.D., Director, Peninsula Multifaith Coalition, San Francisco Bay Area, Certified Islamic Networks Group Speaker, and Hindu American Foundation Dharma Ambassador.
I asked my American-born son, who is on his way to a professorship at one of California’s universities, “What’s your caste?” He rolled his eyes and started guessing based on what his 6th year teacher had taught him he should be. I had to rephrase my question, “What IS your caste, not what should it be?” He had no answer.
Recently, UC Davis, California (Cal-State), Harvard University and others have added “caste” as a protected category to their non-discrimination policies. I wanted my son to know that such an amendment would increase his liability simply because he was a Hindu American scholar.
In this article, I am not debating what was/is in India, but what I have seen in my last 45 years in America.
What is my caste in America?
“Caste”, in its current form, is a colonial construction, foreign to Hinduism. My grandfather was a farmer and my father a businessman. They would both be considered Vaishyas, a commercial varna in ancient Hindu society. Business was not in my genes and I chose to work for someone instead. This qualifies me to be a Sudra, a working class. Another way of seeing things, I am in the field of education and research so I am a Brahman. As I write this, I am fighting for my basic rights of equality and against injustice in America, therefore I am a Kshatriya, or warrior class. I want to ask Cal-State, what will be the varna (or caste for simplicity) of my great-grandchildren?
My wife’s best friend in India was a Dalit (low caste). They visited each other regularly and ate at each other’s houses. She was shocked to hear the Santa Clara County hearing about caste last year. Why does someone have to come to America to find out about the problems in India?
Why should second generation American Hindus care about these new caste laws?
Almost all second-generation Hindu Americans are uninterested in caste talks. They think these are the problems inherited from India from their immigrant parents, they have nothing to do with it. They may have been right in such thinking up until now, but now they will be more prone to caste-related lawsuits, even if they are atheists or completely naive about it.
With the new caste discrimination laws, if a Hindu manager hires a Hindu and later, for work reasons, decides to fire that person, the plaintiff’s lawyer can add a caste discrimination charge like one of the claims, even if the former has no understanding of it. This kind of added burden will certainly discourage employers from hiring a Hindu – an unintended consequence that overshadows the original problem.
What prompted Cal-State to address the issue of caste?
Cal-state student Prem Pariyar fought single-handedly and succeeded in having caste-based discrimination added to Cal-state. Pariyar said some South Asian students said they had no idea about caste, so he felt they were actually enlightening him (CNN). The ignorance of people of Hindu origin about their caste is not tolerable for Pariyar and his followers. I’m not saying America is completely free from caste issues, but why did Pariyar assume that these Hindu students were liars?
Pariyar may now be seeking to enlighten the state of California with its perceived caste problem.
It is likely that Pariyar is seeking revenge for the suffering of his ancestors in Nepal. Pariyar said, “At least (now) the university has a policy to recognize our pain and recognize our problems.” Since the issues are not prevalent locally in Cal-State, is Cal-State taking the lead in addressing issues in other countries and sending a strong message there?
On Cal-State campuses, the only evidence of discrimination claimed by Pariyar is based on his feeling about “their tone of voice and behavior towards him” and the way “they looked him up and down and seemed ill at ease.” ‘easy”. Pariyar described it as a case of microaggression and social exclusion.
If this were a murder case, with such vague testimony from a witness with clear bias against the accused, would a jury return a guilty verdict? By announcing the guilty verdict on Hinduism, I believe Cal-State has increased the risk of caste-related prosecutions for all Hindus.
Cal-State is increasing Hinduphobia in America, which could lead to increased bullying of Hindu students.
Does Hinduism alone have problems?
Why is only Hinduism targeted by Cal-State? Why didn’t universities add Shia, Sunni and Ahmadi discrimination among Muslims and Catholic, Protestant and Christian Mormon denominational discriminations? If the hearsay testimony of one man (Pariyar) among 485,000 students and approximately 56,000 faculty and staff over the past 100 years is sufficient to consider adding caste as a special category, it does not There is no reason to believe that other religions are free from discrimination within religion or will not be considered as such in the future. Cal-State has certainly chosen Hinduism and that is unfair.
Personally, I have experienced discrimination, microaggression, and social exclusion for not being a follower of Jesus in America. In an interfaith relationship, a Muslim will invariably ask a Hindu to convert to Islam before the Islamic nikah, as Hindus are kafir. Why don’t universities make new laws as a special class on discrimination based on assumptions that others are pagans, sinners and kafir? even if current laws cover general discrimination based on religion? Is an insult to my belief less than that of Pariyar?
I am against the discrimination of Asians in America for the bombing of Pearl Harbor by their grandparents or the current behavior of the Chinese government. Likewise, why shouldn’t I ask Cal-State to make this new caste-related law limited to first-generation Hindu immigrants and spare my great-grandchildren?
Why do people beat caste drums in America?
Caste is unduly promoted for political gain. Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, had good relations with Donald Trump. Consequently, many refer to Hindus as Republicans and white supremacist type supporters of Trump. This may have led the California Democratic Party to support caste protection. The truth is that 70% of Hindus are democrats. Modi is a smart politician who had an equally good relationship with Obama and will do his best with Biden.
It is also possible that some of these caste drummers have evangelical motives. Turning Hindus against their religion could be a great ploy to “harvest souls”. Also, these (probably all) Hindu-sounding caste czars may not be practicing Hindus. It is easy to attack others for personal gain.
Equality Laboratories (EL) and their supporters are poisoning Hindus using caste cards for Hindu festivals (Holi), dividing Indian independence freedom fighters (singing the glories of Ambedkar not of Gandhi) and even dividing the Hindu gods (like Jai Bhim, not Jai Krishna!). EL’s ultimate goal for this strategy is unclear: divide and rule what?
It is unfortunate that in the media the question of caste is equated with race. The truth is that Hindus, like black people, have suffered immensely for over 1000 years of Muslim and Christian rule in India. Hinduism is the only great surviving indigenous culture. They never attacked other countries nor had any desire to rule over others. There is no historical reason why new brown Indian-Hindu immigrants should be racist, or at least not more racist than Pakistani-Muslims.
Why do the same caste facts have different results?
I have spoken against the implementation of caste-based discrimination at two hearings in Santa Clara (SC1 and SC2) and also at Cal-State (CSU). Due to a complete ignorance of the American system, I felt like an asylum seeker trying to understand the laws of the new country where I had just landed. Santa Clara County scheduled an additional hearing, took enough time to hear the pros and cons, and ultimately decided not to pursue implementation of the new law. Compared to this, the Cal-State hearing did not give the opportunity to most Hindu speakers and cut off many of them. At Cal-State, it was as if we were fighting with bows and arrows against a well-trained and highly-equipped (i.e. EL) army. We’ve lost. The basic facts about caste did not change between the Santa Clara and Cal-State hearings, why was the outcome different? I ask Cal-State to hold a hearing again to ensure that the process is fair.
The Dismantling Global Hindutva conference has promoted the idea that all Brahmins (5% of Hindus; including a 5-year-old child in America with the surname Sharma, Mukerjee or Iyer) are violent supporters of casteism. Isn’t this a new kind of racism? He was also talking about the dismantling of Hinduism. American universities have no interest in hearing the other side before sponsoring groups like DGH and EL, and this is a dangerous new trend.
What should Americans do?
I hope Americans aren’t reading Cal-State’s position too much. When I hear stories about the Holocaust, slavery/racism and sex scandals, I still go away thinking of my Christian friends or their faith. Likewise, it would be wrong to think less of a Muslim neighbor because of 9/11 or an act of terrorism in the name of Allah.
I pray that Americans are not trapped in the crusade of those promoting Hinduphobia (view), but rather keep an open mind.
Sadly, many on the other side of this question will want to label me a racist, an advocate of caste privilege, a Hindu supremacist, a Hindutva, and so on. I am simply declaring what I and many others perceive to be a great injustice that affects us personally.
America, am I wrong if I don’t want to leave a bad legacy for my grandchildren?