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Lessons From California SB-403

Lessons From California SB-403


Build-up to SB-403

Hindus were taken aback when giants like Apple Inc. and the California State University system adopted policies about caste-based discrimination (CBD). They did not think or hear of CBD or practice or experience it. But a 2016 report by Equality Labs (EL) led by Thenmozhi Soundararajan claimed grave and rampant CBD against Dalits in America. The report was widely hailed as a pathbreaker, a courageous expose’. However, there had been no rumblings of CBD at all in the news, law enforcement, or the workplace where millions of South Asians put in billions of hours.

Since 2016, the report’s untiring activist backer TS, who appears to be a disciple of the late Tamil icon Periyar, has presented its message nationwide. Her soft-spoken but odious tales of evil Brahmins brutally as well as sexually abusing Dalits horrified progressives in universities, think tanks, rights groups, corporations, and political bodies. Stunned that such terrible things were going on unnoticed, they wanted to ban CBD right away. A notable exception was large software companies, which had not seen rampant CBD despite having tens of thousands of Hindus in their employ.

For its part, the Hindu community felt that CBD in America was a hoax and, in any case, covered by the existing Civil Rights Act. To them, “caste” was an unspoken insinuation (also known as a dog whistle) that Hinduism itself was flawed. Indeed, a survey by the Carnegie- Mellon Institute of International Peace found an order of magnitude lower CBD and pointed out methodological flaws on the part of EL.

The fact that this report was taken as gospel should be a wake-up call to every Hindu. It means that just one unsubstantiated document that plays to existing prejudices can change the policies of America’s largest State. Moreover, there are strong prejudices about Hindu society that overpower any voice that Hindus might raise.

The SB-403 Process

California universities were well aware of EL’s work.  Soundararajan  was a visiting fellow at Stanford, and the California State University system agreed to ban CBD explicitly. When Senator Aisha Wahab announced shortly after her election that she wanted to outlaw CBD explicitly, she had little opposition. After all, caste was an abomination everyone already knew about, and there was one report that showed some numbers. The Senate in California voted 34 to 1 in favor of this bill, introduced by a first-term Senator without a long-standing network. The Assembly is likely to follow suit.

The process has exposed Hindus’ powerlessness in the face of anti-Hindu propaganda. Their contributions to the State’s economy carry no weight. A bill that targets Hindus and is opposed by hundreds of thousands of them will pass in California with unheard-of unanimity. This level of disconnect should shock every Hindu.

The only silver lining is an unprecedented galvanization of Hindus against SB-403. A petition against it has gathered 15,000 signatures. A movement to recall Senator Wahab is just starting. Hindus are getting a crash course in how legislation works. It’s quite remarkable for an argumentative community with as many ideas as people.

Legitimate Hindu Concerns

The stampede to get on the CBD bandwagon trampled over legitimate issues raised by Hindus. The most important one is implementation. Caste is not defined in legal terms or covered in human resources training. There’s no way to know who might have a caste except by racist presumption or self-declaration. Even those who have a caste seldom know what it is, and no one knows where their caste ranks. Nor is caste apparent from your birth certificate, star chart, color, language, or last name. Justice in CBD cases will have to rely on uncredentialed, self-proclaimed experts.

The California Civil Rights Department lawsuit against Cisco and its employees Iyer and Kompella is a perfect example. Its allegations echo middle-school caste stereotypes, which very likely are believed by most potential jurors and many judges. Secondly, since there aren’t many experts on caste, expert testimony is also likely to come from partisans and propagandists like Equality Labs. Getting justice will be near impossible.

Denial of justice is precisely what is happening in the California legislature. Hindus, who stand to lose the most from SB-403, have been rudely overridden by legislators armed with the certainty of middle schoolers. This will be repeated in courts as well. Innocent parties will likely be convicted of CBD based on stereotypes.

The 2016 EL report shows sensational, previously unreported, and vicious CBD, which, if true, is an automatic basis for changes to the law. However, a professional survey casts doubt on its conclusions and methodology. Therefore, in the interests of fairness and due process, the State should conduct its own objective scientific survey and implement SB-403 only if this survey corroborates EL’s findings.

Lessons for Hindus in America

Hindu Americans foresaw these practical issues and opposed SB-403 based on them. But they were dismissed as privileged classes trying to preserve the status quo or Hindu nationalists driven by a fascist ideology. Some Hindus said that SB-403 is harmless because CBD does not really exist. But all this ignores the two major issues:

1.    Hindus have no political power against anti-Hindu prejudices imbibed in the classroom. Hindus fail when widely believed lies take over.

2.    Any sufficiently determined or hateful opponent of Hindus can mislead major power centers in America, including top universities, top corporations and legislative bodies at all levels, while Hindus are blissfully unaware.

Hindus, and more broadly, India, do not lack determined opponents. Examples are Sikh separatists (major supporters of EL and SB-403), Pakistan sympathizers, and organizations motivated by religion, such as IAMC, CAIR, or USCIRF. Secondly, almost all self-styled human rights organizations believe in anti-Hindu stereotypes. Such groups endorse EL’s dubious claims for political and not factual reasons.

However, EL’s motives are suspect. A YouTube video shows TS ranting about Hindu deities, scriptures, festivals, marriages, and even cuisine and asserting that the Nazis were Brahmins. Other videos of her talks to university groups contain very troubling insinuations. Still, EL’s reports are considered unbiased and professional.

In light of the above, we have a few questions for Hindus born in America.

  • Are you surprised and disturbed by the near-unanimous passage of a bill that claims pervasive caste-based discrimination, even though you’ve never encountered CBD yourself?
  • Can you state, if asked, what your caste is, and where it fits into a caste hierarchy?
  • What would you do if you were arrested because of a fake complaint of caste-based discrimination? Would you be able to find a competent lawyer?        
  • Are you concerned that widely held prejudices against Hindus can lead to legislation that impacts you and your family because of your religion?  
  • Should you read up more on how Hindus are perceived in the major media? Do you think that their coverage of Hindu issues might be prejudiced?  

The history of Jews in Nazi Germany shows that silent prejudices against a community can quickly turn into vicious hate under government prodding. It should worry us that a state can run roughshod over Hindus based on false propaganda.

(Garg retired from the US space industry in 2009 with several awards, patents, and publications to his credit. Most recently he has authored a series of papers about caste.)

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  • SB 403 is a terrible bill. There is no caste based discrimination in California or the US, Most people would not know what caste is in the country. This has a potential of bringing hatred towards Hindus in the country. Surprised that California senate has passed this. If we go this route we will have to look into every country of immigrants and incorporate their minorities in the bill.

    In India, where caste has been an issue historically, there are strict laws against discrimination. And government has now up to 50% reservations in jobs and colleges to remedy the past situation for the past 75 years. But that has created now a legal discrimination against the rest.

    Hopefully the California House will not pass this bill or Governor Newsome will veto it. Everyone in California needs to speak up. There is no caste discrimination in our country. Period. Let us not bring issues of other countries in our country. Everyone is equal and there are civil rights laws to protect the minorities.

    June 5, 2023
  • I wish this new legislation had never seen the daylight because it was totally unnecessary. But there are several downsides to opposing vehemently to this legislation openly because of the law of unintended consequences. One, it would alienate the Government of California leading them to believe that they did the right thing by passing this legislation because the fact that so many Hindus are against it proves that there indeed must have been some caste discrimination already going on, which is truly not the case. Two, Dalits and low caste folks must be in favor of this legislation, which creates a scenario in which Hindus would be perceived to be disunited and polarized. We are already a small minority, comprising about 0.5% of the total US population. Can we afford a split among Hindus? Three, my fear is that if we openly and vehemently oppose the legislation and there is a major split in the Hindu community, then the employers may become reluctant to hire Hindus and government may become reluctant to allow Hindus to come to USA because we will be perceived as troublemakers and if that happens, people may even try to hide their religion, which is definitely not good for Hinduism. Currently, Hindus are perceived to be an asset to the US economy and US culture, especially in the context of popularity of Yoga and meditation and spiritual gurus like Deepak Chopra. That will change drastically if we are perceived to be troublemakers. Four, if this legislation gets talked about too much, then it’s possible that other states and even the federal government may feel motivated to adopt a legislation against caste discrimination. Finally, just as racial discrimination, gender discrimination, and age discrimination issues get exploited by unscrupulous people to cover up poor job performance, it’s just possible that caste discrimination may also be used as a pretext to cover up poor job performance.

    June 5, 2023
  • Agree that SB-403 is a bad piece of legislation. There is no caste based discrimination in California or anywhere else in the country. Most of the people in the country would not know what caste is all about. This legislation targets Hindu community and will bring hatred towards them. Will they also include in the legislation minorities or groups from other countries where immigrants come from?

    Caste has been a historical issue in India and there are strict laws against discrimination there. India has gone a great length to provide up to 50% reservations in jobs and college admissions to remedy the past for the last 75 years. But now these reservations have become a case of reverse legal discrimination against rest of the people.

    Hopefully the California house will not pass this bill or Governor Newsome should veto it. There are already civil rights laws which protect everyone. Let us not bring caste issue to California and pretend to solve a problem which does not exist. SB-403 is a bad piece of legislation.

    June 5, 2023
  • Not sure why wahab would advance this bill, her own religion institutionalizes discrimination based on gender, no ifs or buts. So an amendment to that bill to incorporate gender based discrimination based on religious edict would perhaps kill the bill.

    June 23, 2023

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