What do you do on a scorching Sacramento summer afternoon? Jump into the beautiful American River? Go rafting? Have a pool party?
Not if you are a California Hindu who will soon be at the receiving end of state sponsored injustice and racial profiling.
The California South Asian community, specifically the California Hindus have been up in arms against the highly discriminatory, racially profiling bill SB-403 which alleges that South Asians have an implicit bias towards caste discrimination. The bill attempts to codify caste into law under the protected category of ancestry to ostensibly ensure that no such discrimination happens in the future.
This can be particularly harmful to the Hindu communities since the California history textbooks and popular media have always pushed one-sided narratives of Hinduism purely in the light of casteism. The bill, if implemented into law, will lead to widespread racial profiling and targeting of a micro-minority, stripping away their freedom as professionals, students or entrepreneurs. It will cast South Asians especially Hindus in the sole identities of castiests who by default discriminate against others.
More info here: https://www.hinduamerican.org/say-no-to-sb403
Ever since the bill got introduced in March, the entire California Hindu community has been fighting the bill day and night, reaching out to lawmakers, signing petitions, educating non-practitioners on Hinduism and busting false narratives. Sacramento, the capital of California, has been the hub of anti- SB403 activities with hundreds visiting the downtown Capitol building multiple times, whether for testifying in person during the Assembly and Senate judiciary committee hearings or for meeting their representatives in office. It’s been a long dreaded fight against racial profiling and misrepresentation, while demanding equality and justice. SB-403 has literally consumed our lives for the past six months causing severe mental health issues, fatigue, anxiety and disruption of our family lives.
This six month uproar of the Hindu community reached its peak when once again approximately 300 people descended on the Capitol grounds on a hot Saturday afternoon for a Rally and Silent Vigil. Leaving beside all their weekend personal commitments and activities, many drove from the Bay Area and even LA county. Folks from all walks of life including little kids, youth, entire families and senior citizens were present holding banners with slogans like :
“Equality for All”
“Stop Profiling- Not to SB403”
“Unheard Dalit and Bahujan Voices- About US? Without US?, NO to SB403”
“Profiling South Asians is Discriminatory, NO to SB403”
“Caste Free Democracy”
Each person looked like a drop in an ocean of yellow, thanks to everyone wearing Hindu American Foundation’s free T-shirts that clearly said “No to SB403”.
The rally kicked off with a peace prayer and a one minute remembrance of ex co-founder of APNADB, Milind Makwana. Milind Makwana, a proud Hindu American and successful tech professional, fought for his Hindu community’s rights and representation throughout his life. He unfortunately passed away in July, fighting until his last breath, advocating against the SB-403 bill in the Cupertino city council. The entire Hindu community paid its homage to Milind Makwana and his invaluable contributions. We sorely missed our dear brother and friend.
Milind Makwana along with Sandeep Dedge have been founding volunteers of APNADB ( Ambedkar Phule Network of American Dalits and Bahujans) which is a grass-roots non-profit organization that has been in the forefront of this fight. APNADB asserts that the current bill which claims to bring justice to the “Dalits” or “marginalized communities”, has never truly included them in any conversation or consideration. APNADB’s slogan of “about us, without us” summarizes it all.
The rally then continued with leaders from 10+ organizations including HAF ( Hindu American Foundation), CoHNA ( Coalition of Hindus for North America), A4H ( Americans for Hindus), HSS ( Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh), Annapoorna Foundation, Chinmaya Mission and APNADB speaking out against the bill, behooving the California Governor, Gavin Newsom to veto it.
Samir Kalra, Managing Director for Policy and Programs at HAF said:
“Remember this day because five years from now we’ll look back and remember that you stood on the right side of history, that you stood for justice, that you stood up against discrimination, you stood up against racial profiling, you stood up against targeting of a minority community in California. Gov. Newsom- you stood with us in 2017 when you supported our community to ensure that Hindus and Indians were not misrepresented in California’s textbooks. We ask you to stand with us one more time by vetoing SB-403. All we ask is for our civil rights – nothing more, nothing less. But we will not stop until we get our rights. We will not stop until our children are protected from bullying and discrimination. We will not stop until our workers are protected against profiling in the workplace and accusations of caste discrimination because we are a community that believes in equality, justice and freedom of all.”
After the speeches, the rally turned into a silent vigil to showcase that Hindus are being silenced in the garb of civil rights for all. All the attendees lined up in a single file and took one step at a time to walk around the State Capitol lawns. The file was led by HAF staff that has been in the forefront of both the fight against SB-403 and in organizing the rally.
Walking through the silent vigil was very moving and powerful for me, as a Hindu American, as an advocacy professional and as a human being.
It brought back many memories of how my Hindu ancestors have been silenced by the myriad of invaders attacking India throughout history.
How many times have we been told to keep quiet when our temples were destroyed and our cultural and religious celebrations were stopped?
How many times has our history been silenced, dumbed down and even altered to hide our struggles, including the mass violence, ethnic cleansings, genocides, and global indentured labor that Hindus have faced?
How many times have we been asked to shut up in the name of equal rights for all?
How many times have we been told to be apologetic, quiet or just “get along” with the laws that directly target our rights as a community?
How many times have we been told to be silent when fellow Hindus have been attacked or murdered and the global media conveniently looks the other way?
How many times have we been silenced when images of our Gods and Goddesses are printed on bathroom mats and underwear, when our faith is mocked in popular media or when our celebrations are misappropriated?
And yet again we are being silenced, here in this day and age in modern America which believes in freedom of speech, justice, equality and liberty for all.
History truly repeats itself!
The original form of SB-403 bill, accused South Asian Americans (and specifically demonizing Hindus in the documents that were submitted by supporters of the bill) of heinous crimes like rape, murder, child abuse through caste discrimination without a shred of evidence. After many amendments, the offensive language was removed but it underlies the Hinduphobia that brought about this bill in the first place.
In spite of the tremendous contributions we have made to the innovator economy in Silicon Valley that has significantly altered the world, we have been cast into a caste identity as either oppressors or oppressed. In spite of being a highly hard-working, successful, peaceful and engaged community throughout CA and the rest of the nation, we have been silenced through the burden of ancestry. No other minority group has been subject to such singular hate and misrepresentation.
All this and much more hit me like a ton of bricks as I walked through the silent vigil. Silent I might have been externally, but my soul and entire being were screaming for justice. I hope that Gov. Newsom hears my scream and vetoes the Sb-403 bill!
At the end of the vigil, everyone gathered to take a final group photo in front of the Capitol. Ramya Ramakrishnan, National Outreach Director from HAF wrapped up with an acknowledgement of all the efforts put forth by the community so far in this fight and ended with a clarion call to continue to fight for justice.
Post rally, we finally got some time to socialize and catch up with each other. It was for the very first time that I got to meet with many in the community, those of whom I’ve been interacting with online for months. As much as I was sad, I was also delighted to meet with my fellow community members with whom I share collective distress, anxiety and even rage over the SB-403 bill. Many of us in the community have been burning the midnight oil in this fight, above and beyond our responsibilities in our jobs, families and other spheres of life. It was truly touching to finally put a name to the face and experience our collective grief in-person.
“Grief can be a burden, but also an anchor. You get used to the weight, how it holds you in place.” Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever
This collective agony has deeply bonded us for the past many months. It has unified an entire community like never before, turned strangers to life-long friends and glued families together. It has mobilized the CA Hindu community, invigorated advocacy organizations and brought a whole new understanding of the state system. Many of us have been turned into activists, advocates, leaders and engaged community members.
But most of all the SB-403 bill has deepened our faith in our culture, our religion and spirituality and reminded us of the strength of making efforts no matter what, as mentioned in our holy text the Bhagavad Gita.
” कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन ” : Verse 47, Chapter 2, Bhagavad Gita.
“Karmanye vadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadhachana” meaning “Perform your duty but do not have any expectation of the fruits”.
We sincerely hope that Gov. Gavin Newsom hears our Hindu community’s appeals, that he stands by us just like how we, the CA Hindus have stood with him and contributed immensely to the CA innovator economy and across diverse CA communities.
Nevertheless, irrespective of the outcome, our fights will go on and we shall not rest till we achieve every American’s right to equality, justice and liberty.
God Bless America!