The concept of “caste” made waves in the U.S. over the summer of 2020, buttressed by the twin pillars of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (CDFEH) filing a lawsuit against technology giant Cisco Systems, alleging “caste” discrimination on behalf of an employee; as well as by the launch of a book titled “Caste and the Origins of Our Discontent” by Isabel Wilkerson.
Both pieces are unfortunately grounded in a distorted understanding of the issue, which has been shaped by centuries of colonial rule and exploitation and end up fueling Hinduphobia. The impact is being felt directly by the Hindu American community who are now seeing the worst of biased colonial missionary tropes acquire a new lease of life, even as the world has become generally more sensitive to the need to decolonize and honor diversity. Hinduism’s profound philosophical concepts and the contributions of Hindus in fields ranging from mathematics to science to arts and architecture are seldom discussed or highlighted. And, while today’s diversity and inclusion initiatives promote greater cultural sensitivity and attempt to reduce stereotypes about world religions, cultures and races, they often fail to provide a platform for Hinduism.
CoHNA’s decolonizing efforts focus on providing a refreshed view based on contemporary research over the past several decades, along with a deconstruction of racist and colonial attitudes towards Hindu Americans and Hindus in general. Through these efforts, CoHNA aims to dissolve “caste” consciousness, the colonial trope that has dominated discussions about Hinduism and India for over three centuries.