The State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Cisco Systems in June 2020, accusing the company of engaging in unlawful employment practices over a claim by an Indian-origin employee that two managers, also of Indian origin, allegedly discriminated against him on the basis of his assumed caste. The case was initially filed in federal court, but has since been re-filed in state court. Cisco Systems is promising a vigorous defense, rejecting the claim of discrimination.
What has the state of California done and why is it unconstitutional?
The State of California has asserted that the caste system is “a strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy,” and therefore an integral part of Hindu teachings and practices. This is in contradiction to the precepts of the religion and the beliefs of an overwhelming number of its own adherents. The State is asserting that Hinduism is inherently discriminatory and that all Hindus discriminate.
California has also failed to provide any definition or workable method to determine anyone’s caste. It’s not concerned with what Hindus actually believe and is instead targeting them on its presumption that all Hindus of Indian descent must identify as part of a specific caste, believe in a “strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy,” and engage in caste discrimination just because they’re Hindu.
California’s actions blatantly violate the rights of Hindu Americans. The US Constitution prohibits the state from interfering in questions of religious doctrine and prevents the state from depriving any American of their right to liberty.
What is at stake for the Hindu American community in this case?
The State of California is attempting to legally define the Hindu religion as a bigoted religion and Hindus as bigoted people.
Such a false interpretation of Hinduism makes all Hindus suspect in the eyes of the general public. It encourages widespread discrimination against hiring, firing, or promoting of Hindus. Since Hindu children already report being bullied in school when caste discrimination is misportrayed as intrinsic to their religion, the California case puts Hindu children at greater risk for bullying in schools.
Given the lack of religious literacy and cultural proficiency in the United States, all people of Indian origin will likely be presumed guilty of baseline bigotry as well.
All Americans should care about this because while it is Hindus being targeted by the State of California today, tomorrow it may be others.
What is HAF doing to stop the state of California?
HAF has filed a motion to intervene in the case to protect the religious freedoms and rights of Hindu Americans, and all Americans of faith, from the unconstitutional efforts of the State of California to impose the scope and nature of Hindu religious beliefs, teachings, and practices.
What is HAF’s position on caste discrimination?
HAF’s position in this dispute is clear — we vehemently oppose all forms of prejudice and discrimination regardless of whether it is prohibited by policy or law and we reject any claim that prejudice and discrimination based on caste are inherent to Hinduism.
In this specific case, the state does not know what caste is, but in its attempt to define it, has maligned an entire community and religion. In so much that caste discrimination is a kind of malice against someone based not on their inherent worth, but something else, we wholeheartedly agree that it is wrong and condemnable.
Hinduism teaches that the Divine is equally present in all. Because all beings are connected through this shared divine presence, prejudice and discrimination against anyone violates this most profound and fundamental teaching and the moral and ethical duties of selflessness, non-injury, and truth evoked by it. Leading Hindu teachers all insist on this.
Our motion to intervene is to protect Hindu Americans from the state’s overreach and violation of the US Constitution.
Should caste be added as a specific protected class in non-discrimination law?
Discrimination based on national origin is already prohibited under US law as is ancestry and ethnicity under many state laws and public and private sector employment policies. National origin, ancestry, and ethnicity have been interpreted as protecting against discrimination on the basis of birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics — all of which are social markers associated with the various theories about caste.
Every protected class under US civil rights law, namely race, national origin (ancestry/ethnicity), gender, religion, disability, age, and now sexual orientation are broad, facially neutral, universal classes. They seek to address well documented bases of discrimination broadly.
Caste as a specific category is problematic because it singles out and targets people of Indian descent given the singular association of caste and a caste system with India. Caste as a specific class also suggests that there is a prevalent form of prejudice and malice amongst only people of Indian and/or South Asian descent and Hindus that is so entirely different and abhorrent that they should be marked a suspicious class on the basis of their race, national origin, ethnicity, or religion and specifically monitored and policed. This in itself is discriminatory in light of the fact that prejudice and discrimination based on social backgrounds such as clan, class, sect, tribe, or other factors is prevalent within all countries and cultures.
What can you do to help?
First, donate to our Legal Defense Fund. Legal action is costly, and we could use your support.
Just as important, as we continue to release material on our website and social media, share it widely with your network. We need the community to be aware of this assault on our rights.