Hindu professors sue Cal State over ban on caste discrimination

Two Hindu professors are suing the head of their university system amid a broader battle over whether colleges must clearly state caste-based bias against adding caste to an anti-discrimination policy.

Professors in the California State University system argue that designating caste as a protected characteristic unfairly targets Hindus and wrongly suggests that oppression and discrimination are core tenets of Hinduism. Sunil Kumar and Praveen Sinha, in the complaint filed on Monday, argue that Hinduism is about compassion and equality — tenets directly opposed to a discriminatory caste system.

Announcing the federal lawsuit, previously reported by Religious News Service, Kumar said in a statement, “We are totally and strongly opposed to all forms of prejudice and discrimination. “But CSU’s interim policy is that all Indian-origin and Hindu staff And students are singled out just because we are Indian and Hindu.This is discrimination by definition and denial of our basic civil rights.

Caste is a social hierarchy assigned to people at birth. Dalits, despite anti-caste laws, are sometimes pejoratively referred to as “untouchables”. In India, the caste system originally applied to Hindus but now applies to people of various religions.

California State, the nation’s largest four-year public university system, announced in January that it had added caste to its anti-discrimination policy after years of activism by Dalits. The policy now recognizes caste as a sub-category of race and ethnicity.

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That university system followed the lead of several other colleges, including Brandeis University and Colby College, which in recent years have made caste a protected characteristic and young Hindus have increasingly spoken out against caste-based bias. Low-caste Hindus in the United States often report microaggressions aimed at exposing their caste status, said Deepa Sundaram, a professor of Hindu studies at the University of Denver.

California State officials did not immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post, but spokeswoman Toni Molle told the Religious News Service that adding caste to the anti-discrimination policy “reflects the university’s commitment to inclusion and respect for everyone.” 23 The CSU campus has always been a place of access, opportunity and equity for all.

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However, the designation of caste as a protected characteristic is controversial among some Hindus. The DC-based Hindu American Foundation, which represents California State professors, says the university system unfairly targets Hinduism and that it has no right to define religion, much less discriminate as a faith.

Suhag Shukla, the foundation’s executive director, said no other California state policy “demonizes” any other religion, ethnic group or race — meaning Hindu communities are denied equal protection under the law.

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“CSU has turned discrimination on its head by adding a category that already defines a minority community as inherent, and policy only to that community, Indian and Hindu students and faculty,” Shukla said in an email.

In their case, Kumar and Sinha point to instances where the state government of California has referenced caste along with Hinduism; They say making caste a protected characteristic strengthens their argument that Hindus are being targeted.

Kumar, an engineering professor at San Diego State University, and Sinha, an accountancy professor at California State University, Long Beach, also said they do not identify with any caste. They said they were worried the university system would attribute caste to them for purposes of adjudicating discrimination cases.

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Views on designating caste as a protected characteristic tend to vary by age and immigration status, Sundaram said, with immigrants less likely to support such a move than Hindus who have lived in families in the United States for generations. According to the Pew Research Center, 9 out of 10 Hindus in the United States are immigrants. But many young Hindus have allied themselves with other advocacy groups like Black Lives Matter and are more inclined to express casteism, Sundaram said.

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Sundaram, who supports making caste a protected characteristic, said criticizing Hinduism — even in a country where Hindus are a minority — is not tantamount to promoting Hinduism. She said that much of the discrimination against Hindus is based on the fact that many are South Asian rather than their religion, and that Hinduism is not a widespread issue.

Most importantly, she disagrees with the Hindu American Foundation’s argument that Hinduism is not caste-based.

“You can accept this as part of the tradition and fight against it, but to argue that it does not exist in the tradition is false,” Sundaram said. “There’s really no way to make that case.”

Last year, the Hindu American Foundation was among the advocacy groups that protested an online academic conference on Hindu nationalism, a right-wing political movement linked to India. Protesters have sent nearly a million emails to universities arguing that the incident was Hindu-phobic. HAF then claimed that the conference was promoted by activists who support “extremist movements” and oppose “genocide of Hindus”.

The foundation has also opposed a lawsuit filed by California regulators on behalf of a Cisco technology engineer who alleged that his upper-caste supervisors did not promote him because he was a Dalit. HAF argued that the discrimination claim falsely implies that Hinduism is inherently discriminatory.

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