On Tuesday, September 20th the Hindu American Foundation sued the California Civil Rights Department in United States District Court for violating the civil rights of Hindu Americans residing in the state.

In its Federal court filing, HAF asserts that the state of California acted unconstitutionally in its case alleging caste discrimination occurring at Cisco Systems, by seeking to define what Hindus believe and decide how they practice their religion, in violation of the First Amendment. 

HAF’s lawsuit states that the Civil Rights Department (formerly known as the Department of Fair Employment and Housing) wrongly asserts “that a caste system and caste-based discrimination are integral parts of Hindu teaching and practices by declaring the caste system to be a ‘strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy,’ which requires discrimination by “social custom and legal mandate.” 

“Throughout its two decades of existence, HAF has consistently maintained that caste discrimination is wrong, and that any discrimination is neither ‘core’ nor legitimate parts of Hindu religious beliefs, teachings, or practices, nor condoned,” said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF’s Managing Director. “Thus the state of California’s assertion is as erroneous in fact as it is unconstitutional in attempt.”  

HAF filed a motion in Santa Clara County Superior Court in January 2021 for injunctive relief in the same case against Cisco. “It is important to seek federal relief as well to prevent the California Civil Rights Department from pursuing other cases or opening more investigations based on this misrepresentation of Hindu beliefs” said Tim Travelstead, the attorney representing the Foundation. 

“California may be known today for its progressive politics and emphasis on equity, but the state has a dark history of passing shamefully xenophobic and racist laws such as the Foreign Miner’s Tax or the Alien Land Laws,” added Suhag Shukla, Esq., HAF’s Executive Director. “Instead of protecting the civil rights of its Hindu residents, California’s Civil Rights Department is actually violating them by telling them what they must believe and demonizing their religious tradition.”

“Stopping caste-based discrimination is a worthy goal that directly furthers Hinduism’s belief in the equal and divine essence of all people,” the complaint concludes. “But wrongly tying Hindu beliefs and practices to the abhorrent practice of caste discrimination undermines that goal, violates the First Amendment rights of all Hindu Americans, and can only lead to a denial of due process to Americans based on their religious affiliation.” 

If HAF prevails in its claim, HAF maintains that the Civil Rights Department would have to revise its filing in the Cisco case as that suit is based on the false premise that Hindu belief and practice includes a caste system. 

Representing HAF in this case is Narayan Travelstead PC.