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Mea Culpa: California Amends 2020 Complaint Against Cisco; Says Caste Is Not Essential Part of Hinduism

Mea Culpa: California Amends 2020 Complaint Against Cisco; Says Caste Is Not Essential Part of Hinduism

  • The lawsuit, filed in 2020, alleged that two Indian American Cisco engineers — Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella — discriminated and harassed a a Dalit employee based on his low-caste status.

The California Civil Rights Department (CRD) has amended a 2020 complaint against Cisco Systems, acknowledging that caste is not an essential part of Hinduism. The motion was “voluntarily” filed by the department in the first weeks of December to revise their complaint against Cisco Systems alleging that caste discrimination occurred at the Silicon Valley tech giant, according to a press release from the Hindu American Foundation (HAF). “In a victory for Hindu Americans, the amended complaint removes the erroneous and unconstitutional assertion that caste and caste discrimination is an essential part of Hindu religious teachings and practices,” HAF said. 

The lawsuit, filed in 2020, alleged that two Indian American Cisco engineers — Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella — discriminated and harassed a fellow employee based on his low-caste status. The Dalit engineer received less pay and fewer opportunities and the defendants retaliated against him, the lawsuit alleged, adding that the defendants retaliated against him when he opposed “unlawful practices, contrary to the traditional order between the Dalit and higher castes.” Last year, the CRD voluntarily dismissed its case alleging caste discrimination against Iyer and Kompella, while still keeping alive its litigation against tech giant Cisco.

Commenting on the motion, HAF managing director Samir Kalra called it “a significant step forward in protecting the First Amendment religious rights of Hindu Americans. As we argued in our Motion to Intervene, the California Civil Rights Department is constitutionally prohibited from defining Hinduism or any religion for that matter.”

There are however several problematic statements and citations that still remain in the complaint, HAF said. “Foremost among these is the reliance on the fundamentally flawed and statistically invalid survey by activist group Equality Labs on the alleged high prevalence of caste discrimination in the U.S., it said. The foundation further claimed that “the survey has specifically been called into question by academic researchers at the Carnegie Endowment, Penn, and Johns Hopkins, whose work found that caste discrimination in the US was in fact very rare.” 

CRD’s continuance to pursue its case on the basis of many false and xenophobic claims about people of South Asian origin as well as the dubious implication that caste discrimination in India is tied to skin color, in an obvious attempt to draw direct parallels with skin colored based racism in the United States. Additionally, the CRD continues to assert what can only be described as counterfactual statements about the nature of what the plaintiff experienced at Cisco Systems, as evidenced by publicly available court documents that have been filed since the CRD filed its original case in October 2020. 

Noting that their involvement in the case was “far from over” the HAF said they “planned to continue to hold the CRD accountable for its violation of the constitutional rights of Hindu and Indian Americans in California, according to HAF executive director Suhag Shukla. “While our motion to intervene was not accepted by the court, we’ll continue to pursue our civil rights claims against the CRD in our ongoing lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Hindu and Indian Americans in California.” 

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