Scapegoating Hindu Community: Parallels Between Caste Discrimination Legislation and Salem Witch Trials
- Fortunately, in the one case thus far of actual caste‐based litigation, America’s legal system has acquitted itself better than the Puritan tribunals of 17th-century Massachusetts.
Ever since the Salem Witch Trials, scapegoating has been a recurrent feature of American life. To exorcize the demons that loom over history’s darker chapters, a specific minority group—usually marginal, always powerless—is nominated to face exemplary punishment for sins that should rightfully be ascribed to most, if not all, of society.
Recent initiatives that propose special legal frameworks to address alleged discrimination based on “caste” are the newest iteration of this phenomenon.
The incessant polemical slugfest around racism in America has spawned a voracious industry of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion experts; sustained a clergy of academicians who evangelize the dogma of Critical Theory; and engendered a vexing battlefront that exacerbates our existing political and cultural divides.
To assuage this turmoil without actually confronting the problem, a sacrifice must be made. By forcing a consensus that the micro-minority of South Asian—more specifically, Hindu Americans practice a form of discrimination that many people easily (if erroneously) conflate with racism, a convenient whipping boy can be designated for chastisement on the nation’s behalf. Measures can be taken to pummel this imaginary American evil—“casteism”—as a stand-in for everything from slavery to Jim Crow to latter-day white nationalism. Save a tiny subgroup of Americans who become the target of special profiling, everyone else walks away with a conscience unburdened.
As their experiences during World War II and COVID-19 alike reveal, Asian Americans are easily scapegoated. They’re little understood and have long histories of representation in popular culture as a sinister other. Being culturally predisposed to labor quietly within the established system, they haven’t much experience communicating their viewpoints or advocating for themselves in public. For those who achieve economic success, its visibility can evoke a frisson of resentment, isolating them even further from the mainstream.
The process of framing the scapegoated few for the wrongs of the many is as long-standing, and as disingenuous, as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It relies on misrepresenting unfamiliar cultures and oversimplifying their complex social dynamics in language that draws on latent prejudices and preconceptions amongst the public. It depends, moreover, on the outright suppression of facts and promotion of calumny: simply put, misinformation.
Under Indian law, “caste” is an administrative category derived from British colonial constructs that superimposed the reductive model of a rigid hierarchy upon diverse societal systems that allowed for considerable social mobility. In that era of scientific racism, these British notions incorporated grossly fallacious paradigms associating “upper” castes with lighter skin and greater European ancestry, and “lower” castes with dark skin and aboriginal descent. The resulting conflation of caste with “race” is a stereotype used to demonize South Asians to this day.
While caste discrimination does occur in South Asia, surveys reveal that 82 percent of Indians report never having personally experienced it; amongst Indian Americans, that proportion rises to 97 percent. Fewer than a third of Indian Americans born in the United States identify with any caste at all.
Even a single case of caste discrimination in America is intolerable; yet, under the facially neutral categories of ancestry, ethnicity, and national origin, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is fully equipped to adjudicate any bonafide complaints.
The Witchfinders-General of the scapegoating initiative elides such facts to demand the institution of laws that name caste as a specific category of discrimination. They insist that—unlike Catholic and Protestant immigrants from Ireland, or Shias and Sunnis from the Middle East, for example—South Asian immigrants must be presumed incapable of leaving their historical baggage in their old countries, and regarded as especially prone to practicing a form of discrimination unique unto themselves.
This atrocious rationalization was the basis of an amendment adding caste as a protected category under Seattle’s anti-discrimination ordinances. Similar additions are now proposed to California law, via Senate Bill 403. Such legislations decree open season on South Asian Americans—marking them for special policing by workplace watchdogs, incentivizing them to form circular firing squads that file lawsuits alleging “caste discrimination” against each other, and ultimately characterizing them as a nuisance and potential liability for employers and communities alike.
Fortunately, in the one case thus far of actual caste‐based litigation, America’s legal system has acquitted itself better than the Puritan tribunals of 17th-century Massachusetts. In April 2023, the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) voluntarily dismissed its case in Superior Court against two employees of Cisco Systems who were accused of caste-based discrimination. Besides an appalling lack of factual support, CRD’s case relied on a report from the anti-Hindu organization Equality Labs, whose claims regarding caste discrimination were so dubiously attested that the judge refused to accept it as evidence.
A legal system that provides rational, objective protection against scapegoating is the least that South Asian Americans, having placed their faith in the American way of justice, deserve.
Kartik Mohan is a science communications professional living in the Greater Philadelphia area.
Very well written. These laws are solutions in search of problems. They are specifically anti-hindu. SB 403 takes the cake. Promoted by people other than hindus.
They have all but asked Indian American Hindus to wear yellow.. er orange stars while out in public to self identify as potential caste discriminators so the Govt. of California can monitor and “deal” with them. EQ lab gets to rent seek from wealthy cash-rich bay area tech companies where they will hold 4 hour long witch hunting sessions, teaching tech workers how to spot and shame any Hindus amongst them. They will police eating habits (they better eat beef or else), last names (surname better not be “upper” caste or else), and wrong shade of brown (better not be too light brown or else). For shame.
Being in India, from whatever little one hears of the case, it seems likely that the CRD voluntarily dismissed it’s case because it did not want to advertise the fact that current laws could have handled it, also the scrutiny over the case would have exposed the malafide unscientific approach to the general public