- For instance, can the caste equity authors expand upon why Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella of Cisco Systems had to endure three years of witch hunt and trial by media?
In the last few weeks, several articles have been published in American Kahani by individuals and organizations representing caste equity. These articles have many common themes, the first theme being engaging in constructive dialogue and empathy to find common ground between individuals of different castes. Unfortunately, these caste equity individuals and organizations did not elaborate on the mechanism for doing so, hence, we at Caste Files would like to get the ball rolling by starting this constructive dialogue, expecting answers to our queries.
It is hard to engage in empathy and constructive dialogue when the way of your life is being viciously attacked and malicious falsehoods are being spread. Let’s start with Equality Labs, which all the articles refer to. Videos from Equality Labs trainings, and their executive director, show Equality Labs spreading hateful disinformation about Hindus and Jews with egregious statements like Hinduism is “a spiritual foundation for slavery” with “violent scriptures;” “Nazis aren’t Germans in f***king Europe, they’re actually upper-caste Indians,” and invoking white supremacy.
On March 2, 2020, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, founder, and executive director of Equality Labs, wrote an article “Why do we say no to Holi” claiming that the popular Hindu festival of Holi is “upper caste” and that it celebrates the burning of a Dalit woman by “upper caste” men. After being live for more than one year, this hateful article was eventually deleted by Equality Labs (without providing any explanation) to hide the blatant Hindu hate they have been propagating. On March 6, 2020, Thenmozhi Soundararajan made a tweet urging people to desist from celebrating Holi due to its violent history and the immolation of a Bahujan femme. Although the article has been deleted, an archived version of the article can still be read using the link in the Footnote.
On October 26, 2020, in a written declaration submitted to the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara, under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, declared that “Caste is a structure of Oppression… It is a religiously codified exclusion that derives from Hindu scripture.” Further, Thenmozhi Soundararajan says that saying Namaste and celebrating Diwali is part of caste discrimination, that Swastika and Hinduism gave rise to Nazism, and Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads are nothing, but every Act of Hindu scripture has done nothing but bring violence and pain.
Since the caste equity authors quote Equality Labs in their articles, can they please elaborate if the above examples of Hinduphobic hate speech are conducive for empathy and constructive dialogue for reconciliation, and whether they agree with the above views expressed by Equality Labs? The caste equity authors also assert that to overcome caste fragility, individuals from dominant castes must recognize that discussions about caste discrimination are not personal attacks but rather attempts to address systemic injustices. Does this mean that the malicious lies being spread by Equality Labs should be construed as constructive discussion instead of personal attacks on one’s belief system?
The second common theme is that caste is a global phenomenon (much larger than South Asians) around the world and comprehensive and accurate teachings about caste discrimination should be incorporated into school curricula and educational materials. Till date every single American has been taught that caste is a terrible Hindu hierarchy, starting from elementary schools to post-doctoral programs. Some scholars like Stanford anthropologist Thomas Blom Hansen, are of the view that the caste system is “justified in the Hindu scriptures,” and should continue to be taught in California’s schools. Brandeis University, the first entity in the US to add caste as a protected category in December 2019, has a program called “Caste / A Global Journal on Social Exclusion.” Although it is touted as a global study, a quick look at the current and previous issues confirm that all the studies are focused solely on India and more specifically on Hindus. There is not a single study on the caste system in Muslims of Bangladesh, Christians of Pakistan, the origins of untouchability in Japan or how in Somalia, to be a Midgan-Madibhan, or an outcaste person, is to suffer life-long indignities, to be deemed impure, unlucky, sinful, polluting, and thus meriting the disdain, avoidance, and abuse of others. A recent caste survey dated 23 May 2023 further substantiates that to the average American, caste is clearly associated with India and Hindusim.
The academic and media communities often perpetuate certain stereotypes through their narratives. For example, when discussing caste systems, the focus is often solely on Hinduism in India, rather than also considering similar systems in other cultures, such as the Burakumin caste in Japan or the Gob nobility in Somalia. This narrow focus can lead to misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Hinduism, as exemplified by a Hindu American student from California who felt that his religion was degraded by California’s History textbooks. He described his religion as being portrayed as “a religion of monkey and elephant gods, rigid caste discrimination and oppression of women,” which left him feeling angry, embarrassed, and humiliated. Can the caste equity authors clarify whether the educational materials need to be changed to teach caste as a phenomenon prevalent all over the world, across all religions and cultures, or should it continue to portray caste as a Hindu practice sanctioned by scriptures? Also, can the caste equity authors provide an example of just ONE instance of a school textbook from any of the 50 states which discusses different castes in Somalia, or the practice of untouchability in Japan, or the caste discrimination against the Roma people in Europe, or an article in New York Times, Washington Post, or The Economist, discussing how immigrants from Mexico and South America bring their caste privilege to the United States?
The third common theme is that caste is rampant in the United States and that as per Equality Labs, 1 in 4 Dalits face physical and verbal assault, 1 in 3 educational discriminations, and 2 out 3 Workplace discrimination. As pointed out before in American Kahani itself, the 2018 Equality Labs survey is unscientific since it uses a sample strength of a mere 1,200 cherry picked respondents from 26 countries — as a representation for the 5-6 million South Asian American diaspora population. Additionally, the research design of the survey was entirely based on anonymous stories of discrimination from across the world by unverified self-respondents. The unrepresentative sample cannot be projected onto the South Asian diaspora in the United States. The survey has no apparent rational conclusions, relies heavily on conjectures, quoting anecdotal stories from anonymous unverified sources. This can be the grossest form of misrepresentation and fictitious argumentation for any study, and the Equality Labs study is a case in point of using anonymous anecdotal stories and biased reporting. This report should be regarded as circumspect not just for being anti Hindu with racial overtones, but also for promoting blatant egregious and discriminatory statements that are ignorant and unscientific.
Furthermore, the 2018 Equality Labs survey also seems to have peculiar parameters for determining caste discrimination in the US. For instance, at one point, the survey uses “vegetarianism” as a marker of caste discrimination in the US with anecdotal examples like “No one ate my non-veg curry the whole night at the party”. The chance that the curry was not very good, or that the guests may have had a dietary preference, has not been accounted for. The survey, with its apparent preference for non-vegetarian food, believes that “upper castes” are largely vegetarian while “lower castes” are not vegetarian and prefer to eat meat. These sweeping claims, of course, can be countered by Indians living in India let alone Indian Americans living in the US. The subsequent 2020 caste survey by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace references the 2018 Equality Labs Caste Survey, and in Footnote 29, punches a big hole into the false propaganda of Equality Labs. The Carnegie report asserts that the Equality Labs survey does not fully represent the South Asian American population, likely has skewed data, and thus the intensity of caste discrimination can be contested. This scientific survey on Indian Americans by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a neutral, unbiased, and objective organization, dated June 9, 2021, is the only authoritative survey on the social realities faced by Indian Americans that examined the issue of caste identities and caste discrimination, finding that while discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, color and national origin is reported as quite common, allegations of discrimination on the basis of caste is exceedingly rare. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 2020 caste study reveals four important findings related to caste in America:
- Half of Indian Americans surveyed reported facing alleged discrimination. The basis of alleged discrimination reported was color (30%), gender (18%), religion (18%) and national origin (1%).
- Only 5% of those surveyed reported encountering alleged discrimination on the basis of caste, with almost half of those respondents reporting the perpetrator of the alleged discrimination being of non-Indian origin, indicating that caste may have been conflated with some other factor or basis.
- A majority of Hindu respondents (53%) do not identify with any caste group at all.
- Within the group that does identify with a caste, there is a significantly lower number of US-born Hindu Indian Americans who identify with a caste group (34%) versus those that are foreign-born (53%), which may indicate that caste identification becomes increasingly less relevant with every generation.
Can the caste equity authors explain why the 2020 Carnegie caste survey totally contradicts the 2018 Equality Labs survey, and the results are diametrically opposite? In addition, why do the caste equity authors continue to quote from the flawed, biased, and unscientific Equality Labs survey, in spite of the subsequent, scientific survey from Carnegie, emphatically stating that only 5-6% of Indian Americans experienced caste discrimination in the US, and out of those, only 1/3 say that other Indian Americans discriminated against them, meaning that only 2% Indian Americans faced caste discrimination from other Indian Americans.
The fourth common theme is that the caste laws do not single out ordinary Indian Americans, and only those who discriminate using caste will be targeted. However, there is no clarity on what activity constitutes an act of caste discrimination. Going by the 2018 Equality Labs survey, being vegetarian and refusing to eat your co-worker’s chicken curry could be an act of caste discrimination. Inviting your neighbor to a Holi Festival of Colors could be another act of caste discrimination. In addition, the Yibirs and Midgàns of Somalia have their unique caste discrimination practices that Indian Americans may not be familiar with and unknowingly may participate in those practices. Are there any frameworks, parameters, or guidelines to investigate caste discrimination cases? How does the caste policy handle people who are agnostic, atheist, irreligious or do not believe in caste? Will the caste policy assign a “Higher/Dominant/Oppressor caste” or a “Lower/Dominated/Oppressed caste” to such people based on their name, skin tone, eating habits, native village, etc.? Does the caste policy account for reverse caste discrimination e.g., someone from a lower caste calling someone else from an upper caste a “Dirty Brahmin” or calling Hindu scriptures “violent” and “oppressive?”
Can the caste equity authors expand upon why Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella of Cisco Systems had to endure three years of witch hunt and trial by media? Why were their names and pictures pasted on social media while John Doe, the alleged victim was allowed to remain anonymous? Why did the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) claim that John Doe was the “lone” Dalit in the team, when there was another “meritorious” Dalit in the same team, who was promoted to a leadership position, by none other than Sundar Iyer? This “meritorious” Dalit was not even interviewed by the CRD to find out if the caste discrimination allegations by John Doe were accurate. Tom Edsall, the White American manager of Ramana Kompella, and the 2nd level manager of John Doe, asked Ramana Kompella to instruct John Doe to submit status reports. Ramana Kompella was merely following directives from his boss, yet the CRD charged him with caste discrimination, while leaving out Tom Edsall, simply because Ramana Kompella was of Indian descent, while Tom Edsall was a White American of European descent.
Can the caste equity authors spell out how Sundar Iyer participated in caste discrimination, despite personally soliciting and hiring John Doe at the highest grade of principal engineer and bequeathed 100% of his CEO equity worth several million dollars to all his employees, including to John Doe. Further, Sundar Iyer solicited for the first head position within the group/startup and awarded it to the other “meritorious” self-identifying Dalit candidate in the same team where John Doe worked. Even after John Doe filed a caste discrimination complaint, Sundar Iyer continued to champion “meritorious” Dalit for his career growth, in addition to having awarded him head leadership positions in the past. Between the Q4 of 2017 and Q1 of 2018, Sundar Iyer also offered his title of the overall Head (CEO) to the “meritorious” Dalit. Sundar Iyer did not promote anyone other than “meritorious” Dalit to a senior management position in his entire tenure at Cisco (since even Ramana Kompella, the alleged “Brahmin” co-defendant, and the interim Head of the group, was only promoted a full year later in 2019, after Sundar Iyer left the group and had to quit his job.
The caste equity authors state that caste is not tied to Hinduism, or any religion and even irreligious people can be punished for caste discrimination. They are unaware that CRD does not follow their noble beliefs. CRD would have known from public data, that Sundar Iyer has been publicly irreligious for decades, yet CRD assigned him a “Hindu Brahmin” caste, based on his last name alone, violating an American citizen’s right to freedom of religion under the 1st Amendment. Further, CRD defined caste as a “strict HINDU hierarchy” instead of the “global worldwide phenomenon” that the caste equity authors claim it to be. So, there is every reason to worry about the caste policies in the absence of any clarity on what constitutes “global” and “world-wide” caste discrimination. Now that we at Caste Files have initiated the constructive dialogue, the expectation is that we will get honest answers to the questions and concerns we have raised.
 Busting the lies of Equality Labs. See https://unravellingthetruth.org/busting-the-lies-of-equality-labs/
 Why Do We Say No to Holi? A Guide to Challenge Casteism By Equality Labs. See https://web.archive.org/web/20200306101500/https://medium.com/@EqualityLabs/why-do-we-say-no-to-holi-a-guide-to-challenge-casteism-ad592d0735cb
 Declaration of Thenmozhi Soundararajan. See https://castegate.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/EQLabs.pdf
 Which version of American History do American Students Learn? See Which version of Indian history do American school students learn? | The World from PRX
 Caste A Global Journal on Social Exclusion. See https://journals.library.brandeis.edu/index.php/caste/index
 CoHNA Caste Survey. See https://cohna.org/new-survey-analyzes-awareness-of-caste-in-the-us/
 Survey of Caste in America: Another Ideologically Driven Crusade Predisposed to Malign Hindu Culture. See https://americankahani.com/perspectives/survey-of-caste-in-america-another-ideologically-driven-crusade-predisposed-to-malign-hindu-culture/
 Anatomy of a Dishonest Survey. See https://medium.com/@rachelgotham5/equality-labs-caste-report-a-rebuttal-to-a-british-colonial-narrative-replayed-1676068ee2cf
 Government Abuse in California. See https://castegate.org/
 Sundar Iyer’s Blog from Stanford University. See http://yuba.stanford.edu/~sundaes/serious.html
Abhijit Bagal is a legal analyst at Caste Files. He is a Healthcare Analytics technologist at a managed care organization specializing in publicly funded behavioral healthcare. He holds a master’s degree in software engineering and an MBA with a specialization in comparative international health. Additionally, Abhijit is a part-time law student with a focus on civil rights, due process, and equal protection of the law.