Coalition of Hindus of North America

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Letter to Seattle City Council

Honorable Council members,

We, the undersigned, who represent a broad spectrum of Hindu and South Asian organizations, temples, and cultural associations, urge you to vote NO on Councilwoman Kshama Sawant’s proposed ordinance to ban alleged caste discrimination in Seattle.

We are shocked and saddened to see such a proposal, which is based on fallacies and unproven allegations by hate groups such as Equality Labs. This ordinance peddles bigotry and singles out the South Asian community by using racist, colonial tropes of “caste” and ensures that our community is subject to special scrutiny, thus denying our rights to freedom of religion and equal protection. Councilwoman Sawant is trying to present this as “right wing” pushback – we ask you to simply look at what Equality Labs and its directors have said in public and ask you to judge if they can indeed be seen as an “objective” source. A few examples are included below.

The folks pushing this ordinance have called for an open dismantling of the Hindu religion, even disparaging the extremely popular festival of Holi by falsely claiming that the festival celebrates the burning of a “low caste” woman and where men advance violence against women, including throwing semen.[1] It is also important to note that Ms. Sawant has a history of working with and mainstreaming such hate groups.[2]

anti-Hindu tweets by Sharmin Hossain

caste anti-Hindu tweet by Sharmin Hossain

EL Holi Article Excerpt

EL Holi Tweet

The ordinance is heavily dependent on faulty data supplied by hate groups such as Equality Labs (discussed above) and the Ambedkar King Study Circle. The survey has been challenged by several sources over the years,[3] with the most recent being the reputed Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In its 2021 survey on Indian Americans, Carnegie called out the survey’s flaws in Footnote 29, indicating the following (emphasis added):[4] 

This study relied on a nonrepresentative snowball sampling method to recruit respondents. Furthermore, respondents who did not disclose a caste identity were dropped from the data set. Therefore, 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. While the existence of caste discrimination in India is incontrovertible, its precise extent and intensity in the United States can be contested.

By relying on data from such groups, the council is mainstreaming hate against the South Asian community and reneging its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

There is also no substantial evidence of any caste-based discrimination in Seattle. We therefore wonder why the city would spend valuable time and resources behind such a baseless ordinance and risk potential lawsuits and loss of business opportunities from a vibrant South Asian community which contributes significantly to the city’s progress.

As proposed, the law singles out South Asians and projects them as a group that discriminates MORE than any other and thus requires a special monitoring. This is inherently discriminatory and violates our rights to equal protection and due process guaranteed by our constitution and Washington State law.

We also wonder how much the council knows about the nuances and the extremely complicated dynamics of “castes” in South Asia. For example, there are thousands of “castes” and social groupings within South Asia. Many vary based on the different states or provinces within each of the eight countries. How does the Seattle City Council plan to adjudicate these complaints or determine someone’s caste? Any litigation around caste discrimination will come up against strict guidelines set by the Supreme Court for Title VII claims[5] subjecting the city to costly litigation and legal imbroglio.

In fact, such an experiment is a stark reminder of the racist and colonial policies implemented by the British to rule Indians and advance their inherent prejudice against the native “savage” population. Admitting the flaws in the colonizers’ attempts to assign castes to Indians, Mr. Middleton, a superintendent of the 1921 census survey of the Punjab Province of India, pointed out the effects of such policies:

We pigeonholed every one (sic) by caste, and if we could not find a true caste for them, labeled them with the name of a hereditary occupation. We deplored the caste system and its effects on social and economic problems, but we are largely responsible for the system we deplore … Government’s passion for labels and pigeonholes has led to a crystallization of the caste system, which except amongst the aristocratic castes, was really very fluid under indigenous rule.

The ordinance also claims that “caste” is hereditary and sanction by law and religion. There is no such law in the world, and certainly not in South Asia, which sanctions “caste” discriminationIn addition, there is no religion in South Asia that officially sanctions such discrimination. In fact, the very word “caste” is derived from the Portuguese “casta” and has no precedent in any South Asian system.

Furthermore, the ordinance cites the Cisco lawsuit by California Department of Civil Rights. The Council should pause and consider how an allegation that has not even been proven after close to three years, is counted as “evidence,” not just against the individuals involved, but against the entire community they hail from? This assumption of guilty unless proven innocent contravenes our fundamental principles of justice.

Similarly, the CSU policy cited as evidence/precedence has already resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the university. Brown University, in enacting a similar rule, admitted that “existing laws are sufficient to handle discrimination based on Caste.” Brandeis University has not recorded a single case of caste-based discrimination in the three years since caste was added as a protected category on its campus. 

The facts directly contradict the exaggerated claims that caste based discrimination is widespread, rampant and an urgent problem that must be addressed with this ordinance.

As Americans and people of South Asian origin, we strong strongly condemn all forms of discrimination, including caste-based discrimination, and firmly believe that there is no place for prejudice and mistreatment of anyone in our diverse and pluralistic society. Fortunately, our country’s federal and state laws protect against caste discrimination under the existing categories of national origin and ancestry, both of which have been interpreted as inclusive of the various characteristics that might be associated with caste such as ancestry (lineage), birthplace, culture, ethnicity, or language.

We therefore strongly urge you to vote NO and not adopt policies that would unfairly and unconstitutionally target people of South Asian descent or origin, subject them to special scrutiny, leave them vulnerable to bullying in schools, and deprive them of their fundamental civil rights in the workplace or elsewhere.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

Signatories (in Alphabetical Order)

1. All World Gayatri Pariwar

2. Ambaji USA Shree Shakti Mandir 

3. Ambedkar-Phule Network of American Dalits and Bahujans

4. Amivex Inc

5. Annapoorna USA Foundation 

6. Anup Inc

7. Ariven Community

8. Arya Pratinidhi Sabha America, Georgia

9. Arya Pratinidhi Sabha America, Michigan

10. AS Health Insurance 

11. Ashwin College of Ayurveda 

12. Be SANSKRITI Legacy

13. Behind Every Temple

14. Bellevue Hindu temple and cultural center 

15. Bhavaanee Maa Mandir

16. Carmel Interfaith Alliance

17. Central Jersey Hindu Association

18. Coaliation of Hindus of North America (CoHNA)

19. Consciousness for Humantiy

20. Dakshin Vrindavan USA

21. Dalit Bahujan Solidarity Network

22. Dayton Hindu Temple

23. Durga Temple in New Jersey

24. Durga Temple of VA

25. Federation of Hindu Mandirs

26. Federation of Indian Associations of WA

27. Frisco Medical Associates

28. Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora 

29. GLOBAL ORGANIZATION OF PEOPLE OF INDIAN ORIGIN OC

30. Greater Atlanta Vedic Temple Society Inc.

31. Greater Cleveland Shiva Vishnu Temple 

32. Gujarati Samaj of Tampa Bay

33. HindiUSA 

34. Hindu American Society of Central NJ

35. Hindu Americans of San Diego 

36. Hindu Cultural Center of Placer County 

37. Hindu Decoloniality 

38. Hindu Speakers Bureau

39. Hindu Temple of Bloomington

40. Hindu Temple of Central Arkansas

41. Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago

42. Hindu University of America

43. HinduAction KaramVeers

44. HinduDvesha

45. Hindupedia

46. IAFF

47. INDIA American forum

48. India Awareness Foundation 

49. InterfaithShaadi

50. ISKCON of Silicon Valley

51. ISKCON of WA

52. Jain Society of Greater Cleveland 

53. Jaya Hanuman Temple and Cultural Center

54. Jeeyer Education Trust

55. KarmaKonnect

56. Kerala Hindus of North America

57. Kerala Hindus of Northern California 

58. Mahaa Lakshmi Mandir

59. Mana Samskriti

60. Mandir

61. MIP LLC

62. My Temple 

63. New England Indian Christians fellowship 

64. NRI JAC

65. Organization Of Hindu Malayalees

66. Osscar

67. RICHA GRAPHICS

68. River Comics 

69. Sai Temple of Austin

70. Sarascare Foundation USA 

71. Shiva Vishnu Temple of Greater Cleveland

72. Shree Sai Parivar 

73. Shri Darshan 

74. Shri Navagraha Devasthanam of NA, Inc

75. Shri Sanatan Mandir

76. Shri Surya Narayan Mandir

77. Siddhi Vinayaka Cultural Center Inc

78. SIMRA

79. Srimanirama educational and cultural Foundation

80. Tamil Hindu

81. The Hindu Temple of Atlanta, Inc

82. The Saraswati Sangam Project

83. United American Hindu Leadership Council Inc

84. United States Hindu Alliance

85. Uttar Pradesh Mandal of America

86. Uttarpur Ganesha Mandali

87. Vaanprasth Punarutthan Yagya

88. Vaishnav Samaj of Southern California 

89. Vedic Cultural Center

90. Vedic Education and Devotional Academy 

91. VETRA  INC

92. Washington Helping Hands 

93. Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee

94. Whitestone Diamonds Inc

 REFERENCES:

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20200306101500/https://medium.com/@EqualityLabs/why-do-we-say-no-to-holi-a-guide-to-challenge-casteism-ad592d0735cb

[2] https://www.indiaabroad.com/indian-americans/seattle-city-council-passes-resolution-introduced-by-kshama-sawant-against-caa-nrc/article_4ea7f9b0-4704-11ea-9a79-93263c822307.html

[3] https://medium.com/@rachelgotham5/equality-labs-caste-report-a-rebuttal-to-a-british-colonial-narrative-replayed-1676068ee2cf

https://www.indiaabroad.com/recrimination-or-reconciliation/article_ad5cea31-1739-5105-9254-2d4ff29eece5.html

[4] https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/06/09/social-realities-of-indian-americans-results-from-2020-indian-american-attitudes-survey-pub-84667

[5] See University of Texas Southwestern Medical Ctr. v. Nassar, No. 12-484 (June 24, 2013)

[6] http://www.insoso.org/images/pdfs/Art2.2-Bhadra.pdf