You Might Consider Yourself Beyond the Reach of Seattle Caste Law. You Would Be Wrong
- Discrimination laws in the U.S. are serious business and carry significant penalties. Defending yourselves against a discrimination suit is no walk in the park.
“I don’t discriminate on caste, so why should I worry about this?”
“Isn’t it a good thing to explicitly stop caste discrimination?”
“Only the harm doer is opposed to legislation against the harm.”
These are some of the common responses from the silent majority of Americans who watched the fierce fight in Seattle, as the city rushed to pass its new “caste” law singling out South Asians for special monitoring.
This majority consists of two groups of people.
First, those declared outside the scope of “caste” (specifically Americans of white European descent), which is ironic, since the very word is derived from a European language.
Second, those of South Asian origin, secure in their repudiation of “caste” in their daily lives being a sufficient barrier against accusations of caste bias. They are silently with the multiple supporters who publicly spoke the same words: I am a dominant caste Hindu/Sikh/Jain/Muslim and I urge you to vote yes. It was as though merely declaring yourself ‘dominant caste’ and begging for forgiveness was adequate immunization.
Sorry, but I have some bad news. We have entered an era in which “caste” is being weaponized to achieve all manner of aims. The key sponsors of the law have bigger goals — from the destruction of capitalism and the establishment of socialism, to the “de-Brahmanization of wellness traditions” which they will gladly explain — in exchange for a donation to Equality Labs!
Everything is caste discrimination now. “Militant Jain vegetarianism is caste discrimination” thundered one speaker, asking the city to intervene in his family kitchen, claiming “My mother does not like my Dalit wife so we need this law now to protect her.” “My cousin does not like to eat outside,” lamented another. Speaker after speaker got up to denounce the perfidious dominant-caste oppressors who would not eat with them in the office cafeteria or invite them to parties.
It would be comical if it were not so serious. Discrimination laws in the U.S. are serious business and carry significant penalties. Defending yourselves against a discrimination suit is no walk in the park.
You might reasonably wonder: How does anyone know what caste I am? But to Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold, it doesn’t matter, it is just like sexual discrimination. Perhaps, you think that declaring you do not believe in the caste system would be an affirmative defense. If you are one of the majority Hindus that said they do not personally identify with a caste group of any kind you might understandably consider yourself beyond the reach of this law.
You would be wrong.
As a student at Stanford two decades ago, Sundar Iyer wrote a blog stating that he does not believe in the caste system, that he has never practiced as a Brahmin and declared himself an atheist. Later, he recruited his Dalit classmate from IIT into a highly-paid leadership role at a leading technology firm. But when the former classmate did not get the promotion he wanted, he raised a caste discrimination complaint.
The complaint turned into a lawsuit. The lawsuit made headlines everywhere from Silicon Valley to the tech corridors of Bengaluru. “Upon information and belief” claims the lawsuit, “Iyer is a Brahmin” (Page 9, line 8). Not a word of testimony has been heard yet, but Iyer has been convicted in public opinion as the very essence of Brahminical dominance, despite his public disavowal of caste. The unproven allegations are cited as the key reason that a caste law is needed in Seattle, in the California State University system, at UC Davis and Brown University.
Sundar Iyer is out of Cisco while his accuser still works there. All because his last name is Iyer. As Councilmember Lisa Herbold explained, there may be no visible markers of your caste. No matter. You are the dominant caste if a self-identified oppressed caste member says so. You may protest that you lack knowledge of your accuser’s “caste” — but this ignorance will itself be held as proof of your privilege. Your protestations of innocence will be examples of upper caste “fragility.”
Sundar Iyer has the financial wherewithal (as does his ‘oppressed’ accuser), a paper trail of caste indifference, and a history of recruiting Dalits to his team, and yet he is struggling to defend himself.
Most of you will not be as lucky.
Under this law, you may be a ‘harm doer’ if the person who feels they were harmed says so. How would this all work in practice? As the prime mover behind this legislation, the self-proclaimed Dalit Diva tells us what she wants from America. She then assures us that the only person this ordinance hurts is the discriminator. Under this framework, if you are the “harmdoer” your company’s HR department must get into your mind to determine your ‘caste intent.’
If you think this sounds like a sinister form of McCarthyism, then you’re suffering from ”savarna fragility.” Your only option is to surrender to the “change.” Old-fashioned ideas of presumption of innocence are passé in this new progressive utopia.
This is what Hindu Americans are up against. Since over 80% of Hindu Americans who have immigrated here self-identify as ‘general category’ (also tagged as “Upper Caste”), there is a better than four in five odds that you are also labeled as the dominant class. If you deny it, you will be given that designation anyway, based on your last name.
This is not speculation. As socialist Kshama Sawant made it very clear, the very purpose of her ordinance is to create lawsuits against ‘corporate bosses.’ She has no desire to educate anyone, just wants the poor oppressed millionaires of Microsoft and IBM to sue their bosses. This is what is coming to a city near you. You can flash your caste-free credentials all you want, but if you are a Trivedi or a Vishwanathan or Soundararajan, you are the dominant caste and presumed oppressor.
Unless you are Sunita Vishwanath or Thenmozhi Soundararajan or Kshama Iyengar Sawant.
Then you are part of a privileged group, often educated at the best colleges, with access to publish on the most widely read media platforms, backed by Ivy League professionals and academics, and funded by venture capitalists. You are declared immune from membership in a dominant caste.
They are now the modern version of yesteryear’s council of clergy that will judge you guilty or innocent-facts be damned.
Welcome to the brave new world.
Suresh Krishnamoorthy is a naturalized citizen and a practicing Hindu who has lived in the U.S. since 1988. He is on the Executive Board of the Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA).
Does this law allow filing a defamation case against someone who does not share a table with Dalits in office cafeteria or invite Dalits to parties (as claimed by the author) ?
If the law is properly drafted, there is nothing to worry. If it happens to be like some Indian laws that treat you ‘guilty till proven innocent’, then Hindu Americans are in trouble.
Can we hear Sunder Iyer who is facing accusations of caste discrimination, on what happened in his case, his views on this law, Thereafter Kshma Sawant should respond. We should debate how misuse of a law can be avoided. Throwing the baby with bathwater is not a solution.
Well written. This is one of the writeups about how Seattle’s discriminatory passage of caste legislation will actually harm innocent people, help few, and ultimately harm America.
This is a must read article. Every “secular” , “woke” or “spiritual not religious” Hindu American needs to realize this law will come for them.
You can get targeted for giving an employee or student a ” tough” project (you want them to fail) or for NOT giving the a “tough” project (you feel they are not capable)….
For serving food to them in a plate or asking them to serve themselves….
You can be targeted for giving a ‘pat on the back” to a colleague (apparently searching for their janeu) or for not giving them a pat on the back (because you feel they are lower caste)….
Want to break up with your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend? Watch out -you could be doing so cause you perceive them as lower caste….
Did not invite a kid to your kids birthday party..-so casteist of you
And then good luck trying to prove to anyone you are not casteist. The accused in the Cisco case has been fighting this accusation for 3 years, despite having a published record of being an atheist.