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This article was first published on pgurus here: https://www.pgurus.com/breaking-down-the-carnegie-endowments-2020-indian-american-survey/

Earlier this week, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace released a survey on Indian Americans, charting the “everyday social realities that Indian Americans experience.” It reveals some important data on the 4 Million strong Indian American community, including ongoing social realities, religious practices, attitudes towards civic and political engagement, social networks, etc. On analyzing the report, there is much to appreciate but also much to question-specifically with regards to the findings around “caste.”

Exposes poor quality of data powering the current politics of “caste”

Over the past year multiple state sponsored bodies, especially in California, have sponsored resolutions or sought to make “caste” a protected category, based primarily on the faulty research and positions of Equality Labs. The Carnegie report references the same 2018 “Caste Survey” and in Footnote 29 punches a big hole into the false propaganda of the group and their allies. The Carnegie report asserts that the Equality Labs survey does not fully represent the South Asian American population, likely has skewed data, and thus the intensity of “caste discrimination” can be contested.

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Carnegies’s statement asserting that “it is likely that the sample does not fully represent the South Asian American population and could skew in favor of those who have strong views about caste…” is exactly what many Hindu activists and those who work with surveys have been saying for years.

Given this background we urge the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (CDFEH), the Human Rights Commission of Santa Clara County and the student bodies of Cal Poly, UC Davis and others to re-evaluate their statements and resolutions based on this same flawed data and stop the Hinduphobia.

 Contradictions within the Carnegie Survey Report

 On the whole, it is unfortunate that colonial categories like “caste” continue to be kept alive through standardizations like these, long after the colonizers have departed. Even more unfortunately, the survey queries only those respondents self-identifying as Hindu- regarding their “caste.” This defies logic. If Indian laws are to be our guide in the U.S. (which appears to be the case for the Carnegie survey), we can find hundreds of “castes” among India’s Christians, Muslims and Sikhs. These categories are well defined in India among all communities, not just among the Hindus.

The focus on probing and trying to link Hinduism alone to “caste” takes away from an otherwise very credible survey and reinforces stereotypes about Hinduism in the minds of the readers. In fact, Carnegie admits that the Other Backward Caste (OBC) category is common among Muslims, (see snapshot from their report below) while the Scheduled Castes (SC) category is found among Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims.

Another inconsistency is apparent in Footnote 7, which states: “The term ‘Dalit’ refers to individuals who occupy the lowermost rungs of the traditional Hindu caste hierarchy.” Not only does this footnote contradict the report it is part of, it unfortunately shows bias against Hinduism yet again, since Dalits also exist among Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, etc.

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Flawed assumptions

The Carnegie survey assumes and builds questions around a “traditional Hindu caste hierarchy.” What could this tradition be, when “caste” is a Portugese word not found in ANY Hindu text? As Professor Nicholas Dirks wrote, British “caste” censuses force fitted thousands of jatis and occupation based groups into a “caste hierarchy” and then blamed Hindus for all problems.

Similarly, what does “identifying with caste” mean? If Carnegie is interested in Hindu beliefs, the questions should probe on categories like jati, varna, kula, gotra, shreni, etc. These are Hindu concepts, not “caste,” which is a colonial import. A good reading list on these topics can be found here.

Caste does not rise as a significant factor in the survey

In Figures 19 and 21, we see two key observations. First, a quarter of respondents had NO knowledge of “caste” in their networks, while barely twenty one percent of an already tiny group of self-selected respondents even think “caste” is an issue, information of their social networks.

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Nor is this affinity of like minded folks to cluster together an anomaly. A study in August 2020, showed similar results among social networks of different Christian religious groups within the US. See chart below.

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Next, consider Figures 27 & 28. While the institute points out that “caste” discrimination is “an equal opportunity offense,” (28), it also urges to exercise care in any “subgroup analysis” due to the small sample size (27). We certainly agree with the latter.

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This is important, because only five percent of respondents (of a very small self-selected sample) reported experiencing any such “caste” discrimination over the past twelve months. So, any assertions about “caste” need to be taken with a grain of salt.

In conclusion, while the Carnegie Endowment Survey on Indian Americans has pertinent data on the social and demographic trends within the community, its association of “caste” solely with Hinduism is problematic and reinforces stereotypes about Hindus even when the survey finds negligible “caste” discrimination within the community. Still, It is a breath of fresh air to see that Carnegie Endowment challenges and cautions against the 2018 Equality Labs survey that has been the basis of a virulent Hinduphobic sentiment in the United States and beyond.

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