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Caste: Cal-State Versus My Great Grandchildren

California’s universities

Caste: Cal-State Versus My Great Grandchildren

From Dilip Amin, Ph. D., Director, Peninsula Multifaith Coalition,San Francisco Bay area, certified speaker at Islamic Networks Group, and Dharma Ambassador of the Hindu American Foundation.

I asked my American born son, who is on track for a faculty position at one of California’s universities, “What is your caste?” He rolled his eyes and started guessing based on what his 6th grade teacher 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 State (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 just for being a Hindu American academician.

What is my Caste in America?

“Caste” in its present form, is a colonial construct, foreign to Hinduism. My grandfather was a farmer and father, a businessman. They would both be deemed Vaishyas, a business varna in ancient Hindu society. Business was not in my genes, and I chose instead to work for someone. That qualifies me to be a Sudra, a working class. Other way of looking at it, I am in the field of education and research thus I am a Brahmin. While writing this, I am fighting for my fundamental rights of equality and against injustice in America, thus I am a Kshatriya, or warrior class. I wish 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 (lower caste). They routinely visited and ate at each other’s homes. She was shocked to hear the Santa Clara County’s hearing relating to caste last year. Why does someone have to come to America to learn of issues in India?

Why should the second generation of Hindu-Americans care about these new caste laws?

Almost all second-generation Hindu Americans have no interest in the caste talks. They feel that it is their immigrant parents’ inherited problems from India, they have nothing to do with it. They may be 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 new caste related discrimination laws, if a Hindu manager hires a Hindu and later, for some professional reasons, decides to fire that person, the plaintiff attorney may add a caste related discrimination charge as one of the claims, even if the former has no understanding of it. This sort of additional burden will certainly discourage employers from hiring a Hindu–-an unintended consequence dwarfing the original issue.

What prompted Cal-State to take up the caste issue?

Prem Pariyar, a student at Cal-state, single handedly fought and managed to have caste-based discrimination added at Cal-State. Pariyar stated some South Asian students expressed they had no clue about caste and thus he felt they were effectively gaslighting him (CNN). Ignorance of people of Hindu heritage about their caste is not tolerable to Pariyar and his supporters. I am not saying that America is totally free of caste issues but why did Pariyar assume those Hindu students are liars?

Pariyar may now be looking to gaslight the state of California with his perceived caste issue.

It is likely that Pariyar is out to get revenge for the suffering of his ancestors in Nepal. Pariyar said, “At least (now) the university has a policy to recognize our pain and to recognize our issues.” Considering issues are not widespread locally at Cal-State, is Cal-State taking a lead to fix issues in other countries and send a strong message there?

At Cal-State campuses, the only evidence of discrimination claimed by Pariyar is based on his feeling of “their tone of voice and behavior toward him” and the way “they looked him up and down and appeared uncomfortable.” Pariyar described it as a case of microaggression and social exclusion.

If this were a murder case, with such vague testimonies by one witness carrying clear prejudice towards the accused, would a jury deliver a guilty verdict? By announcing the guilty verdict on Hinduism, I feel Cal-State has increased the risk of caste related lawsuits for all Hindus.

Cal-State is increasing Hinduphobia in America, which in turn might result in an increase in bullying of Hindu students.

Does only Hinduism have issues?

Why is only Hinduism targeted by Cal-State? Why have universities not added Shia, Sunni and Ahmadi discrimination amongst Muslims and Catholic, Protestant and Mormon Christian within-faith discriminations? If one man’s (Pariyar’s) hearsay testimony amongst 485,000 students and about 56,000 faculty and staff members over past 100 years is sufficient to consider adding caste as a special category, there is no reason to believe that other faiths are devoid of discrimination within-faith or will not be deemed so in the future. Cal-State has certainly singled out Hinduism and that is unfair.

Personally, I have been discriminated against, experienced microaggression, and felt social exclusion for not being a Jesus follower in America. In an interfaith relationship, a Muslim will invariably ask a Hindu to convert to Islam before Islamic nikah, because Hindus are kafir. Why don’t universities make new laws as a special category on discrimination based on assumptions of others as heathen, sinner and kafir; even though current laws cover general discrimination based on religion? Is an insult to my belief any less than Pariyar’s?

I am against discrimination of Asians in America for their grandparents’ act of bombing Pearl Harbor or current behavior of the Chinese government. Likewise, why shouldn’t I ask Cal-State to make this Caste related new law limited to only the first generation of immigrant Hindus and spare my great grandchildren?

Why are people beating the caste drum in America?

Caste is being unduly promoted for political gains. Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, had a good relationship with Donald Trump. Therefore, many tag Hindus as Republicans and White Supremacist type supporters of Trump. That may have led the California Democratic Party to support caste protections. Truth is, 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 drum beaters have evangelical motives. Turning Hindu against their religion might be a great ploy to “harvest souls.” Further, those (probably all) Hindu sounding-named caste-czars may not be practicing Hindus. It is easy to attack others for personal gains.

The Equality Labs (EL) and supporters are adding poison amongst Hindus by using the caste cards for Hindu holidays (Holi), dividing Indian independence freedom fighters (singing glories of Ambedkar and not Gandhi) and even dividing Hindu Gods (like Jai Bhim, not Jai Krishna!). It is not clear what EL’s ultimate objective is for this strategy–to divide and to rule what?

It is unfortunate that in the media, the caste issue is tagged with race. The truth is, Hindus, like Blacks, have suffered immensely over 1000 years of rules by Muslims and Christians in India. Hinduism is the only major surviving indigenous culture. They never attacked other countries nor had any desire to rule over others. There is no historical reason for brown, new immigrant Indian-Hindus to be racists, or at least no more racist than Pakistani-Muslims.

Why do the same caste facts have different outcomes?

I spoke against implementation of caste based discrimination at two Santa Clara hearings (SC1 and SC2) and also at Cal-State (CSU). Because of total ignorance about the system in America, I felt like I was an asylum seeker-refugee trying to understand laws in the new country where I just landed. Santa Clara county planned an additional hearing, took sufficient time to hear pros and cons and ultimately decided not to pursue implementation of the new law. Compared to that, the Cal-State hearing did not give an opportunity to most Hindu speakers and cut many of them off. At Cal-State, it felt as though we were fighting with bows and arrows against a well-trained highly-equipped army (that is EL). We lost. Fundamental facts about caste did not change between Santa Clara and Cal-State hearings, why was the outcome different? I request Cal-State to hold a hearing again for the process to be fair.

The Dismantling Global Hindutva conference promoted the idea that all Brahmins (5% of Hindus; including a 5-year-old child in America with the last name Sharma, Mukerjee or Iyer) are violent proponents of casteism. Is this not a case of a new type of racism? It also talked about dismantling Hinduism. American universities have no interest in hearing the other side before sponsoring groups like DGH and EL, and that is a dangerous new trend.

What should Americans do?

I hope Americans don’t read too much into Cal-State’s position. When I hear stories on Holocaust, slavery/racism and sex scandals, I do not walk away thinking any less of my Christian friends or of their faith. Likewise, it would be wrong to think any less of a Muslim neighbor due to 9-11 or an act of terrorism in the name of Allah.

I pray Americans will not get trapped in the crusade of those who are promoting Hinduphobia (view), but instead keep an open mind.

Sadly, many on the other side of this issue will want to tag me as racist, in defense of caste privilege, Hindu supremacist, Hindutva, etc. I am simply stating what I and many others perceive to be a great injustice that affects us personally.

America, am I wrong if I wish not to leave a wrong legacy for my grandchildren?

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  • Dear readers, I would love to hear your views on what I have stated here based on my experiences in the USA for the past 45 years. This caste related new policy will impact all Hindus in America, including those who consider themselves an atheist. This message is also for all fair minded Americans and I hope they will share it with others.
    On a different topic, you may check my book: Interfaith Marriage: Share & Respect with Equality.

    March 10, 2022
  • Comment: I bring to this response from my experience as a Christian and a retired elementary school teacher. I am also the parent of five adult children and grandparent of six grandchildren. My wish, as is Dr. Amin’s, is that each generation becomes more welcoming and kind, embracing all people of good will. We are one.

    From the title of Dr. Amin’s article, his concerns are not only about himself, his family and his community now, but what impact will the CSU System’s policy of adding caste to its anti-discrimination policy have to future generations of Hindus. Dr. Amin maintains that adding “caste” to the CSU Anti-discrimination policy will create more discrimination against Hindus instead of less.

    I appreciate Dr. Amin’s perspective and know that he brings his life experiences to his views. A man of deep faith, I trust that he is sincere in his perspective on this issue.

    My current interfaith work includes being the President of the Peninsula Multifaith Coaltion, a coalition of 26 Faith Houses in the Bay Area with a mission of “building bridges of understanding and respect”.

    March 10, 2022
  • Dilip Amin is an active member of the Peninsula Multifaith Coalition in San Mateo County and a passionate supporter of understanding between all faith traditionsl His concerns are valid and I would hope CSU will reconsider its policies on Caste. Thank you. Rev. Kristi Denham, past-president of the PMC and Ordained Minister in the United Church of Christ.

    March 10, 2022
  • Great article that addresses worries of Indian American Hindu parents not for just themselves, but for their children & grandkids who have no clue about caste. Having lived in US for over 4 decades I never came across caste. It just was not important to my friendships or networks! Now as Dr. Amin points out, I am forced to identify w a caste in US to defend my faith & my rights to practice my religion . The ‘caste police’ cooks up false data & narratives and if anyone protests are immediately labeled as ‘fascists or right wing.’ Why should US or CA decide what Hinduism is and who is the ‘good’ Hindu per their consultants whose agenda is to make money from this completely irrelevant obsession? I certainly am not looking for anyone to be my ‘savior’! Definitely not the US govt or CA state & institutions! Butt out folks. Fix your issues of homelessness, drug issues, drought issues, church issues! Stay out of my business & religion!

    March 30, 2022

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