- We are alarmed by the legitimizing of caste as a Hindu construct and defining caste as a Hindu malady.
This is with reference to the caste discrimination article in American Kahani by Pooja Singh titled, “I am Outraged at the Vicious Attacks on Supporters of California’s Historic Bill to End Caste Discrimination.” We at Caste Files share her ambition of one unified humanity as we strive to eliminate any form of discrimination rooted in divisions, including the archaic concept of caste, while advocating against the use of such terminology. Our path is one of inclusivity, unity, and the celebration of the inherent worth of all.
However, at Caste Files, we challenge the pervasive and toxic labeling of caste that has entered our lexicon globally. It’s disheartening to see Indian American CEOs, entrepreneurs, medical professionals, educators, everyday people and so many more being tagged inaccurately by caste on social media handles and in media reports. As demonstrated by the 2021 Pew Research Center caste survey, the occupational division based on caste that existed in the traditional Indian society has diluted and is barely a reality in rapidly urbanizing India and even more so in the vast diaspora.
Caste is barely even recognized in North America and caste discrimination is not tangible according to reputed surveys and police records. Yet, surveys and statistics that resist the addition of caste policy have been canceled, along with those that resist the practice of “caste bombing” or “caste terrorism” on the Hindu diaspora, whether in school extracurriculars, interfaith dialogue, or in policy.
We are alarmed that the legitimizing of caste as a Hindu construct has been carried on to such an extent that mainstream media has delivered hundreds of articles defining caste as a Hindu malady. Therefore, we present the below facts and challenge the author (Pooja Singh) to provide a response to our assertions based on facts, data, and real evidence, instead of wild allegations, emotions, and anecdotal stories. The author stated that she is open to a democratic discourse, so we hope that she and her organization(s) will engage with us in a meaningful discussion based on the merits of our facts alone.
All the claims of “rampant” caste discrimination in the U.S. are based solely on a 2018 caste survey by Equality Labs, a for-profit company, that conducts fee-based caste training at corporates and other institutions, and at the same time, lobbies those same entities to implement caste policies. The 2018 Caste Survey by Equality Labs has multiple flaws. A few glaring issues to note are: (a) While the survey claims to study “caste in the U.S.,” it was open to participants from anywhere in the world. (b) Religion data of respondents who are reported as Dalits is kept out of the Equality Labs’ survey report, even though the survey calls out Hindu terms throughout. (c) Further, Equality Labs conducted its survey without sample randomization and without qualifying the “sample.” Responses were collected using an online self-administered platform, which makes the data likely to be biased in favor of the agenda pushed by the organization soliciting feedback. (d) Strikingly, a breakdown of respondents by religion is not provided despite the survey asking about religious identity. So, the religion of individuals reported as Dalit is not disclosed.
A subsequent survey dated June 9, 2021, on Indian Americans, by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called out the Equality Labs survey’s flaws in Footnote 29, indicating the following: “This study relied on a nonrepresentative snowball sampling method to recruit respondents. Furthermore, respondents who did not disclose a caste identity were dropped from the data set. Therefore, it is likely that the sample does not fully represent the South Asian American population and could skew in favor of those who have strong views about caste. While the existence of caste discrimination in India is incontrovertible, its precise extent and intensity in the United States can be contested.” This 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.
Equality Labs often engages in actions to stereotype and target practicing Hindu Americans. Equality Labs has fabricated and falsified data in their research surveys to suit their biases, for example, by asking foreign respondents to use a California Zip code. 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 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, Executive Director of Equality Labs, declared that “Caste is a structure of Oppression… It is a religiously codified exclusion that derives from Hindu scripture.” Equality Labs’ co-founder is Sharmin Hossain, a Bangladeshi Muslim American, who served as the Political Director before rendering her resignation in March 2021 and has made many hateful, Hinduphobic comments in the past while at Equality Labs.
So, the question naturally arises, why is there such blind faith in the caste survey by Equality Labs alone, while ignoring the one from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which is much more scientific and accurate? Is it ethical for Equality Labs to call itself a “civil rights organization” despite it being a for-profit company and its lobbying for caste policies amounting to a conflict of interest as it stands to benefit from the fee-based caste training? Is no one bothered by the hateful, Hinduphobic, and anti-Semitic statements made by Equality Labs?
Is there any other source, other than Equality Labs, that can corroborate accusations of rampant caste discrimination in the U.S.? Brandeis University was the first entity in the U.S. to implement a caste policy in December 2019. More than three and a half years have passed by, yet there has not been a single report of any caste-based discrimination at Brandeis University. Despite our numerous requests to Brandeis University, requesting them to share their pre-caste (2017-2019) and post-caste (2020-2022) statistics of caste discrimination cases, Brandeis University refused to do so, leading us to conclude that there were no caste discrimination cases there either before or after their caste policy. California State University (CSU) where the author claims she faced caste discrimination, instituted a caste policy in January 2022. A year and a half later, we are not aware of any caste discrimination cases at CSU either. Now that an official caste policy is in place at CSU, what is preventing the author and others from filing formal caste discrimination complaints at CSU, Brandeis University, Apple Inc., and the many other entities that have implemented caste laws over the last three years?
Just because “legal powerhouses” like the American Bar Association (ABA) and others have endorsed the caste policies does not mean they are necessarily correct. About, a year ago, on August 8, 2022, the same “legal powerhouse” had to withdraw its controversial proposal to require law schools to “diversify” their student bodies. ABA had no reservations about creating a “Diversity” proposal that clearly violated state and federal laws, and arm-twisting law schools to adopt this unconstitutional proposal and threatening them with loss of accreditation. Despite strong opposition from law school professors, ABA dragged its feet for over a year with three revision cycles before it was withdrawn. Had the “Diversity” proposal not been withdrawn, it would have become unconstitutional in June 2023, when the Supreme Court declared that the race-based admission policy at Harvard and University of North Carolina was illegal.
In 1995, the ABA was accused by the United States Department of Justice of infringing Section 1 of the Sherman Act through its law school accreditation procedures. The issue was eventually settled with a consent decree. However, in 2006, the ABA admitted to violating this consent decree and paid a fine of $185,000 to the Department of Justice. The justice department had to ask the court to hold the ABA in civil contempt for violating multiple provisions of a 1996 antitrust consent decree. One year after withdrawing their illegal “Diversity” proposal, in August 2023, ABA has now created another discriminatory and unconstitutional policy by using the term caste in resolution 513. 
The accreditation process of the ABA has faced substantial criticism for its perceived inability to ensure that law schools provide accurate post-graduate statistics. This lack of transparency could potentially misguide students about the realities of the post-graduate job market, a concern that becomes even more significant considering the escalating burden of student loan debt. Law School Transparency, a non-profit organization, has urged the ABA to disclose meaningful statistics related to the employment opportunities and salary details of graduates from ABA-accredited institutions.
A significant 80% of Americans are unable to afford legal services, and the ABA has done absolutely nothing to provide alternative methods of legal service delivery that could potentially alleviate this issue.  When the ABA updated the Model Rules concerning Communication About a Lawyer’s Services, it did not address the regulations that restrict certain online legal referral websites. Thus, the ABA failed to address important rules that prohibit online legal referral websites.
Every American, starting from elementary schools, is taught that caste is a terrible ancient hierarchy practiced by Hindus in India and erroneously associate caste with Hinduism. A recent survey conducted in March 2023 by Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), confirms that Americans equate caste with Hinduism.
To the average American, caste is clearly associated with India and therefore Hinduism. Attempting to soften this association, ABA’s claim that “caste” is a global phenomenon is a dishonest attempt to obfuscate the fact that usage of caste in any law leads to stigmatization and stereotyping of specific groups like Hindu-Americans. In addition, although ABA’s resolution 513 mentions “other caste oppressed communities”, in the 19-page resolution, there is not one single example of any “other caste oppressed communities” in the entire planet other than Hinduism, India, and South Asia.
While race and gender or sexual-orientation discrimination are terms readily understandable in the U.S., caste is not. Because ABA’s resolution 513 fails to define caste clearly, it is unconstitutionally vague. It also violates Equal Protection Clause because it treats American citizens of Hindu religion, as well as those from India and South Asia, differently than others. If the law maker does not understand “caste,” neither can the layperson understand what caste means and what constitutes caste discrimination. Simply stating that caste is a “hierarchy” and identifying “caste systems” located in India and South Asia does not define what caste and caste discrimination is under ABA resolution 513.
ABA’s resolution 513 refers to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but Merriam-Webster’s first (and primary) definition of caste is “one of the hereditary social classes in Hinduism that restrict the occupation of their members and their association with members of other castes.” Thus, ABA directs the community to the very place where, contrary to ABA’s argument, caste is defined as associated with a religion and has multiple definitions. No court anywhere has endorsed an anti-discrimination law directed to a class of purported discriminators rather than a class discriminated against. Surely ABA cannot suggest enforcing an Ordinance against prohibited conduct without identifying conduct the Ordinance proscribes. Merely saying caste is not enough, particularly here, as the Ordinance implicates significant First Amendment concerns.
Another blatant example of singling out Hindu Americans is the usage of the word “dalit” mentioned over 41 times in resolution 513. ABA again refers to the Merriam Webster Dictionary to define “dalit” as “a member of the lowest class in the traditional Hindu social hierarchy having in traditional Hindu belief the quality of defiling by contact a member of a higher caste.” The word “Hindu” or its variation is mentioned 17 times in resolution 513. Despite claiming that caste is a global phenomenon transcending religion and geography, resolution 513 does not provide a single instance of any other “caste system” in any other part of the world except India and South Asia. Nor does ABA’s resolution 513 provide any examples of caste discrimination in other religions besides Hinduism.
Finally, ABA’s resolution 513 specifically talks about “dalits” only, which by ABA’s own definition, is applicable only to the “Hindu Caste System.” This even though ABA claims caste is a global phenomenon happening in diverse cultures, in different continents, using different caste classification, hierarchy, and nomenclature, other than the terms “Hindu” and “dalit.” Yet, as stated earlier, ABA’s resolution 513, which is 19 pages long, fails to provide a single example of another caste system, caste oppressed communities, or the equivalent of “Hindu” and “dalit” in another culture or religion such as Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, or in a different continent such as Africa, South America, or Europe.
Another pertinent question that needs to be answered by the author is why is there such an insistence on using terms specific to Hinduism and India, like “caste”, “brahmin”, and “dalit” in these policies? If the supposedly noble intent was to eliminate all forms of discrimination, including caste based discrimination, which is claimed to be a global phenomenon, one could have used the term “Inherited Social Class or Status” which is facially neutral, includes not only caste, but also any other advantages or disadvantages based on parentage or ancestry and is equally applicable to all Americans irrespective of their ancestry, skin color, ethnicity, race, caste, creed, tribe, and national origin.
Alternatively, these policies could have used terms from other religions also like “Biradari”, “Ashraf”, “Pasmanda”, “Anglo Indian”, and “Syrian Christian” instead of, or in addition to, Hindu terms, but the policymakers deliberately chose not to do so. In California, despite claiming SB403 does not target a racial group, the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s analysis shows the bill’s author and Equality Labs do target one group, noting “however broadly the bill in print might define the term, the letters and background information provided to the Committee by the author and supporters reinforce the association of caste and South Asians.” Why is State Sen. Ayesha Wahab, author of SB403, and its supporters, have been stubbornly unyielding to replace caste with a racially neutral term that encompasses ALL forms of intra-community discrimination?
Examples are given of Lakireddy Bali Reddy, Cisco Systems, and BAPS lawsuits as justification to introduce caste laws in the U.S. We will provide fact-based rebuttals to each of these cases in future articles. We conclude by stating that the solution to addressing subtler forms of intra-community discrimination is not to expand specific categories that target particular ethnic groups, resulting in discrimination against them. It is by deploying existing laws with their broad, neutral categories that provide everyone with protection and the obligation to treat everyone fairly.
Finally, we would like to remind everyone, especially the “legal powerhouses,” of the comments made by Thomas O. Barnett, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, in the ABA consent decree violation investigation: “No one is above the law and those who do not comply with their obligations under court orders must be prepared to face consequences.”
References: Pew Research Center, Attitudes about Caste, June 29, 2021. See https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2021/06/29/attitudes-about-caste/  The question of Caste in the US and a Questionable Survey. See https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/the-question-caste-us-questionable-survey-seattle-city-ordinance-hindu-community-2338639-2023-02-23  Carnegie Endowment for International Survey, June 9, 2021. See https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/06/09/social-realities-of-indian-americans-results-from-2020-indian-american-attitudes-survey-pub-84667  Equality Labs Survey Newsletter Archive, September 11, 2020. See https://mailchi.mp/equalitylabs/southasiantownhall-4131209?e=bea6c6de99  Busting the Lies of Equality Labs. See https://unravellingthetruth.org/busting-the-lies-of-equality-labs/  Anti-Israel and Pro-Palestine comments by Equality Labs. See https://web.archive.org/web/20200805000030/https://twitter.com/EqualityLabs/status/1290799680121720833
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.