Hindu professors sue Cal State over ban on caste discrimination

Two Hindu professors are suing the head of their university administration for opposing the expansion of the anti-discrimination policy amid a widening battle over whether colleges should outlaw discrimination-based bias.

California State University administration professors argue that calling castes a protected characteristic is unfairly attacking Hindus and wrongly suggesting that oppression and discrimination are among the fundamental tenets of Hinduism. . Sunil Kumar and Praveen Sinha argue in the complaint, filed on Monday, that Hinduism is about compassion and equality – principles that are in direct opposition to the system of caste discrimination.

“We fully and strongly oppose all forms of prejudice and discrimination,” Kumar said in a statement announcing the government’s lawsuit, which was first reported by Religion News Service. But the CSU Interim Policy singles out all people from India and Hindu staff and students just because we are Indians and Hindus. This by definition is discrimination and denial of our basic human rights. ”

Caste is the social hierarchy to which people are assigned at birth. Dalits, sometimes called “untouchables,” face prejudice and violence in South Asian countries despite anti-caste laws. In India, caste system was initially applied to Hindus but now it is applied to people of different religions.

California State, the nation’s largest four-year public university system, announced in January that it had expanded its anti-discrimination policy after years of Dalit activism. The policy now identifies the status as a subset of race and ethnicity.

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That university administration followed the lead of several other colleges, including Brandeis University and Colby College, which have made the status a protected feature in recent years as minority Hindus have advocated against situational bias. Lower-class Hindus in the United States often report acts of violence aimed at revealing their status, said Dheepa 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 Religion News Service that including the anti-discrimination policy “demonstrates the university’s commitment to inclusive and respectful, ensuring that each of us. CSU’s 23 campuses are always a place of access, opportunity and equality for all.”

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However, calling status a protected attribute is controversial among some Hindus. The DC Hindu American Foundation, which represents California State professors, says the university system is targeting Hinduism and that it has no right to describe religion at all, especially as a discriminatory faith.

Suhag Shukla, the foundation’s executive director, said no other California state policy “applies to” any religion, race or ethnicity — a fact that means members of the Hindu community are denied equal protection under of the law.

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“CSU has turned non-discrimination on its head by including a group it describes as belonging to an already dominant community and merely policing it – Indian and Hindu students and faculty,” Shukla said. said the email.

In their case, Kumar and Sinha point to times when the state government of California talked about caste along with Hinduism; they say the incidents reinforce their argument that castration is a protected trait aimed at Hindus.

Kumar, an engineering professor at San Diego State University, and Sinha, an accounting professor at California State University at Long Beach, also said they did not know they belonged to either group. They say they are worried that the university administration will give them positions in order to judge cases of discrimination.

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Attitudes toward naming 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 whose families those who have lived in the United States for generations. About 9 out of 10 Hindus in the US are immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center. But Sundaram said many minority Hindus have formed alliances with other related groups, such as Black Lives Matter, and are inclined to call out caste discrimination.

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Sundaram, who supports making caste a protected characteristic, said criticizing Hinduism – even in a country where Hindus are a minority – has nothing to do with promoting Hinduphobia. He said that the majority of discrimination against Hindus is the fact that many are South Asians, not their religion, and that Hinduphobia is not a widespread problem.

More importantly, he said, he disagrees with the Hindu American Foundation’s argument that caste is not the foundation of Hinduism.

“You can accept this as part of the culture and fight against it, but to argue that it is not part of the culture is just a lie,” said Sundaram. “There’s no way to do that.”

The Hindu American Foundation was one of the advocacy groups that last year protested an online seminar on Hindu nationalism, a political movement with ties to India. Protesters have sent nearly a million emails to universities, arguing that the incident was Hinduphobic. At the time, HAF said that the conference had encouraged activists who support “extremist movements” and deny “genocide of Hindus.”

The foundation also rejected a lawsuit filed by California authorities on behalf of an engineer at the technology company Cisco who alleged that his top management did not promote him because he is a Dalit. HAF argued that the claim of discrimination misrepresents that Hinduism is inherently racist.

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