- It is crucial that we engage in a constructive dialogue to find common ground on the issue of caste equity. We must uphold our civil and labor rights obligations in our new homeland.
As a dominant caste Hindu in tech and a member of Hindus for Caste Equity, I have closely followed the discourse surrounding caste in California and the proposed SB403 bill. I am deeply concerned by the fear mongering and disingenuous arguments put forth by opponents of the bill. These arguments are showing up in our Whatsapp groups, at the temple, and even in the Indian Independence celebrations of our community.
I can’t tell you the horror and shame I feel every time I see such mean spirited commentary. It is not rooted in fact and cheapens the discourse on issues by spreading fear and distrust in our community.
It is crucial that we engage in a constructive dialogue to find common ground on the issue of caste equity. The reality is that caste discrimination exists, even within the diaspora, and we must uphold our civil and labor rights obligations in our new homeland.
Opposition to SB403 reflects deep-rooted biases that we must confront. This is not a matter of choice but a matter of upholding the law. Any form of discrimination is wrong, and those opposing SB403 find themselves on the wrong side of history. Much of their arguments are rooted in fragility and their claims are akin to the white southerners who resisted integration during the civil rights movement. To help educate our community I wanted to debunk some of the most outrageous claims of the opposition so that those of us in the middle can find a path forward to consensus.
Myth 1: SB403 is Hinduphobic and targets Indian Americans.
It is important to recognize that the South Asian community is not limited to a small group of Indian Hindu organizations who oppose the bill. The broader South Asian community includes people from Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and indentured communities from diverse religious backgrounds and countries of origin.
Amongst the larger diaspora, the majority of the South Asian community supports SB403, rejecting the influence of old world politics from our countries of origin. We immigrated to the United States in pursuit of opportunity and to leave behind unsavory aspects of our cultural heritage. Just as we reject child marriage, we also reject caste discrimination.
Even more crucial to understand is that caste as a global category is much larger than South aAsians. There are encased communities around the world including the Roma of Europe, Burakumin of Japan, Baekchong of Korea, Yibir, Midgaan, and Tumal.tribes of Somalia and many other communities around the world. That is why the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination article 29 recognized caste and other systems based on descent discrimination.
The reality is the only people who Sb403 targets are those that discriminate. If you do not discriminate you will not have a problem.
Myth 2: Caste does not exist in California or the United States
Opponents of SB403 claim that caste discrimination does not exist and that only a few Dalits in the state support the bill. This assertion is false. Caste oppression affects individuals in every South Asian community, irrespective of their religious practices—Hindus, Sikhs, Ravidassais, Christians, Jains, Muslims-even atheists. That is because Caste can be practiced irrespective of religion and it is now found in many communities of religious practice.
Thousands have expressed their support for the bill through petitions, letters, calls, and emails. Data from Equality Labs and Carnegie actually both confirm caste exists with Equality Labs Data sharing troubling data that 1 in 4 Dalits face physical and verbal assault, 1 in 3 educational discrimination, and 2 out 3 Workplace discrimination.
Reporting in AP News, Washington Post, Reuters, Cal Matters, Salon, Guardian, New York Times, SF Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, La Times have also confirmed these reports. We are past the point of debate that caste exists and need to pivot to what can be done.
Further cries that claim caste does not exist and even worse that there are no cases are extremely disrespectful in their attempts to gaslight victims of caste discrimination. They are also part of the reason why caste persists. Dominant caste people come off insensitive and discriminatory. Just because they do not experience discrimination does not mean others do not. And the denial must stop.
This is a time instead for empathy and a commitment to listen.
Opponents must acknowledge that they are no longer the sole gatekeepers of our community; voices across caste, class, and faith lines are united against discrimination. This includes prominent organizations like the American Bar Association of North America, South Asian Bar Association of America and National Asian American Pacific Islander Bar Association.
Myth #3: SB 403 will lead to Hindus going to jail.
Opponents have spread baseless claims that the passage of SB 403 will lead to Hindus being imprisoned. Discrimination laws do not lead to enforcement unless a crime has been committed.
Myth #4: SB 403 will lead to Hindu Children Being Bullied
The inclusion of caste in discrimination laws will contribute to healing classrooms and is not an attack on anyone. Bullies do not read the law and then bully. Bullying is a complex psychosocial phenomenon and should be dealt with through social workers, therapists, and a caring community. We have many cases from California caste-oppressed students and families of Dalit children being bullied in k-12 schools across the state on the basis of caste. When they report, they are told that caste is not covered. SB 403 would help to bring healing to those classrooms. T
The hysteria of SB 403 and schools is reminiscent of the white southerners’ Southern Manifesto. In May 1956, 101 congressmen issued the “Southern Manifesto” in opposition to the integration of black students into white schools. They declared, “We pledge ourselves to use all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution and to prevent the use of force in its implementation.”
The opposition in a similar vein have tried to organize at city councils across the state to see if they can get school districts to refuse to implement Sb403. Not only is this unlawful but they are organizing for the right to continue to discriminate against caste oppressed families and their children.
This will not age well and reinforces bigotry to a new generation. Let us not politicize schools and leave children alone.
Myth #5 Adding Sb403 will lead to the expulsion of Hindus from California like what happened in Uganda.
This horrific vein of disinformation claim asserts that SB403 will result in the expulsion of Hindus in California. It is rooted in historical trauma, particularly the painful expulsion of the Indian minority in Uganda in 1972. However, there is no logical, legal, or factual argument that civil rights laws lead to the expulsion of a community particularly in California and Federal law. Such arguments are manipulative and exploit historical pain for political gain. We must reject these fear-based tactics and engage in an honest and informed discussion.
Myth #6: Adding SB 403 will lead to Hindu genocide
Similar to the above statement. Civil and labor rights laws do not lead to genocide. It is absurd that this needs to be said and yet here we are. Saying such a hyperbolic statement is harmful. It also makes no sense. It is akin to saying adding the protected characteristics of Sex/Gender leads to the genocide against men or that adding the protected characteristic of race leads to white genocide. This is again nothing logical, legal or factual and it is shameful people are using this argument.
Myth #7 Adding caste is an attack on the success of Indian americans
This is just sad. Success as a community is not just measured by our wealth but our progress on social issues. Many South Asians are for caste equity as we want to leave behind antiquated and violent historical legacies. This is part of how our cultures evolve. And it is not an attack on anyone else.
Myth #8 Adding Caste is a slur to Hindus-equivalent to the usage of the N word
This is not legally accurate. Caste is a globally recognized category in many jurisdictions. While caste names of dalit castes are often used as slurs by upper castes as in the case of “banghi”, “chura-chamar”, “pariyan” this is not the same as the usage of caste as a protected characteristic in civil and labor laws.
In these same arguments opponents try to assert that caste was invented by the British.
Again before a single English person entered the subcontinent centuries of caste discrimination and violence existed. This is what led to the rise of faiths like Buddhism and Sikhism which were direct challenges to caste. Further caste is a globally recognized category in intergovernmental law under the UN Convention Against Racism and Discrimination and many other treaties as well as in laws in our homelands. It is also a protected characteristic used by many global communities impacted by discrimination based on work and descent.
This is another attempt of dominant castes to appropriate the language of civil rights and even that of caste equity civil rights leaders to try to find some way they are aggrieved with this clarification of the law. But they continue to fail.
Myth #9 Passing Sb403 will lead to reservation and discrimination against dominant caste groups in terms of H1B visas, Green Cards and worse.
There is no lawful grounding to this mean-spirited and intentionally divisive commentary. The foundations for caste equity and civil rights in our countries of origin and in the United States are solving for different problems and have vastly different mechanisms that include provisions that acknowledge the historical violence of untouchability, prevention of hate crimes, and affirmative action/reservation policies to remedy historical discrimination
#Sb403 simply clarifies that caste is a protected characteristic and ensures caste oppressed people when faced with discrimination can be assured their rights in workplaces, housing, and educational institutions.
This disinfo is spread intentionally to amplify caste divides and pit our community against each other and is casteist to its core.
Myth #10 SB403 is Dividing the Community
A bill does not divide a community. We are already divided on the basis of caste and there are many testimonies of how many caste-oppressed people are suffering from this discrimination. Stifling discussion on this severe form of discrimination simply continues and we must move past silencing our caste oppressed brothers and sisters and begin listening and working to end this violence once and for all.
To conclude, it is vital that we address caste discrimination within our community and work towards a more inclusive and just society. As I worked through these myths I was struck at how much pain and unhealed fragility is driving this hysteria
I have empathy for what it will take to confront the internal rot of casteism and racism in our community. And yet this is what is our duty now. If the US can confront its legacy of racism in the wake of George Floyd, so too can all caste impacted immigrants look at our own historical baggage with compassion but a firm commitment to end all discrimination.
SB403 represents an opportunity to promote equality and eliminate an insidious form of discrimination. By dispelling misinformation, recognizing the diverse voices supporting the bill, and challenging fear mongering tactics, we can move closer to a society where every individual is treated with dignity and respect. Let us embrace this opportunity to heal, grow, and foster unity within the South Asian community and beyond.
Ajay Patil is a member of Hindus for Caste Equity and the California Coalition of Caste Equity.