Coalition of Hindus of North America

OPPOSE California SENATE BILL SB-403

First, it was Seattle and now it is California. State Senator Aisha Wahab has introduced Bill SB-403 to amend the anti-discrimination policy under the Unruh Civil Rights Act by adding caste as a protected category. The amendment is based on unproven and biased data from hate groups like Equality Labs and is aimed at targeting South Asian communities and other people of color. 

The bill also falsely defines “caste” based on information supplied by such hate groups and agenda driven activists. While admitting that existing California laws CAN provide protection against any such discrimination, the bill still pushes to include “caste” as a special category by falsely arguing that California has “grave caste discrimination.” If passed, the bill violates the civil rights of South Asians and other people of color, denies them equal protection and due process and subjects them to profiling and stereotyping.

FOUR REASONS WHY THIS BILL IS PROBLEMATIC

  • It will lead to religious profiling and stereotyping based on last names, dietary habits (e.g. vegetarian), religious markers, etc.
  • It will lead to automatic presumption of guilt and fault when it comes to Indian Americans.
  • It will deny us equal protection and due process under California law.
  • Existing California laws around national origin and ancestry already provide sufficient protection against any such discrimination.

Useful articles

TAKE ACTION!

1. Download our infographic for distribution

2. Confused about SB-403? Check out our FAQs

3. Send a letter to your Senator and Assembly Member (California Residents Only)

4. Are you a business or an organization? Sign our coalition letter today!

5. Download our sample scripts to call or email the offices of the Senators

Useful videos

Interested in more information about “caste”?

Check out academic papers, books, articles and other resources at our “Decolonize” page at:

https://cohna.org/decolonize

FAQ regarding CoHNA’s opposition to SB 403

While SB 403 does not mention Hinduism, the word “caste” has been and is strongly associated with Hinduism and India. In middle school lessons across the US, the word “caste” only appears in the chapters on Hinduism. Lessons on other religions and geographic regions do not include caste.  Leading dictionaries like Miriam Webster link caste to Hinduism. See example below. Hindus have long maintained that this association is discriminatory, because it portrays Hinduism as inherently and uniquely “casteist”. The Hindu community is regionally, ethnically and linguistically diverse. Our practices vary not only by region, but also can vary within families. Due to mainstream perceptions of Hindus, caste is seen as an essential quality of all Hindus. This perception is prevalent in the U.S., which is why SB 403 – if enacted – will lead to added marginalization, suspicion and unfair profiling of people perceived to be Hindu. Violence and discrimination against Hindus is already evident in the United states. A recent report by the Network Contagion Research Institute has shown that social media activity by extremists has led to attacks on Hindu temples and spaces. Leaders from Equality Labs have claimed that “Hindus make scriptures that enslave [Dalit] people” and a prominent Harvard scholar, Suraj Yengde has declared that Hindus are the “sick people of India”. Even if SB 403 does not specifically identify Hindus, the public perception that Hindus are essentially casteist, would lead to discriminatory practices towards Hindus. There is also precedence in the United States for similar laws to be weaponized against minority communities. For example, laws passed in the 80s and 90s which were seemingly non-discriminatory lead to mass incarceration which disproportionately impacted the Black community. Anyone who supports equality and justice should ask why the civil rights of certain communities should be jeopardized in this way; especially since the law itself clarifies that the current protected categories of race, gender, ancestry and ethnicity already cover caste (as has been noted in the rationale for SB 403).

Thenmozhi Soundararajan and her organization, Equality Labs, are the primary advocates for SB 403, and the rationale for SB 403 is derived from Equality Labs’ faulty caste survey. 

Thenmozhi Soundararajan helped pre-announce the amendments to SB403 on KRON, the evening before it was even introduced in the senate. She and her team have made appearances with Senator Wahab and spoken in multiple media channels in support of SB403. Equality Labs is a fundamentally Hinduphobic organization that marginalizes the voices of the very people it claims to represent: namely Dalits, Bahujans, and Adivasis. 

Q: In what ways is Equality Labs Hinduphobic?

A: Equality Labs claims to be an “Ambedkarite South Asian power-building organization” 

and “a political home for progressive South Asians”. They list membership from Dalits, Adivasis, Bahujan, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, and Christian South Asians. Missing conspicuously from this list are practicing Hindus, the indigenous people of South Asia.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan (aka Dalit Diva) of Equality Labs hosted an event where savarnas – an undefined category of Hindus of varying upper and backward castes, numbering in the millions of people – were accused of being systematic rapists and abusers, simply due to their birth in a particular community.

Equality Labs’ Political Director, Sharmin Hossain, has publicly tweeted about the need to demolish Hinduism itself, stating, “Arguing to salvage Hinduism is dominant caste rhetoric.”

In a since deleted article, Equality Labs claimed that the Hindu festival of Holi features a practice in which males hurl balloons – filled with rocks and semen – at women.

Note: We are frankly at a loss as to how multiple balloons could be “filled with semen”.

Sharmin Hossain and others at Equality Labs have the liberty to hate Hinduism (or any other faith) and work towards ending it. They should not however, then be simultaneously seen as honest interpreters or representatives of practicing Hindu Americans who do value and practice their faith. More importantly, California should not platform their hate

In this video, Equality Labs’ founder, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, is seen making hateful and libelous statements against Hindus and Hinduism.

Q: How is Equality Labs’ survey flawed?

A: Since 2018, Equality Labs has cited a caste discrimination study that it conducted as 

justification for laws like SB 403. The methodology of that study is statistically suspect and it has been criticized for failing to adhere to the common norms of academic studies. Here are a few of the problematic aspects of the study:

1. Flawed sampling methodology

  1. While the survey claims to study “caste in the US,” it was open to participants from anywhere in the world. 
  2. The sampling technique used is called “snowball sampling” which works by having people who respond recommend others who might also respond. By its very nature, snowball sampling is not random. One of the known failings of snowball sampling is the presence of research bias and sampling bias. 
  3. It also suffers from anchoring bias: Another disadvantage of snowball sampling is the lack of definite knowledge as to whether or not the sample is an accurate reading of the target population. By targeting only a few select people, it is not always indicative of the actual trends within the result group. Identifying the appropriate person to conduct the sampling, as well as locating the correct targets is a time-consuming process such that the benefits only slightly outweigh the costs.

2. Bias introduced by selectively rejecting responses

  1. The Equality Labs survey admits in its own report (page 39) that the results have not been tested for statistical validity
  2. One out of 5 responses to the survey were rejected by Equality Labs due to various reasons including:
    1. “Responses that were intentionally illogical and misleading”
    2. Eliminate responses that intentionally left their caste identity blank”

Additional “cleanup” of the data included the following: (page 39)

“[..]For respondents who stated their caste names but did not know or identify which of the caste groups (Brahmin, Vaishya, Kshatriya, Shudra, Dalit or Adivasi) they belonged to, we matched their caste names to groups based on the scholarly records, census reports, and government gazettes.”

This is a fatal flaw in the survey because it presupposes that everyone *must* identify with a caste and if they don’t, a caste will be assigned to them based on their last name.

Other issues with the survey methodology:

  • A breakdown of respondents by religion is not provided in spite of the survey asking about religious identity. So, the religion of individuals reported as Dalit is not disclosed.
  • According to the authors, the survey questions were distributed through the authors’ and supporters’ platforms and networking channels. While there are known Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and anti-Hindu organizations listed as participants, not a single Hindu organization is listed.
  • Here is what the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said about caste in the diaspora, based on its own nationally sampled survey:

“[..] 5 percent of all respondents report having encountered discrimination due 

to their caste identity.”

“[..} More than 50% of respondents said they were not aware of their caste at all “

“[..] caste discrimination is a surprisingly equal opportunity offense. Responses are divided neatly into thirds when it comes to who is discriminating: Indians, non-Indians, and people of both categories are almost equally to blame.

“How might non-Indians discriminate against Indians on the basis of caste if caste is not a salient category for them? This is a genuine puzzle. One possibility is that the person or persons engaged in caste discrimination could be from another South Asian country, where caste might be a meaningful marker of status and hold greater salience. Another possibility is that respondents interpret caste discrimination as a stand-in for other forms of discrimination — on the basis of skin color or country of origin, for example. Given that only 5 percent of IAAS respondents report being victims of caste discrimination, any subgroup analysis must be interpreted with due care given the small sample sizes involved.

[In direct reference to the Equality Labs study] “[..] However, the study is not based on a representative sample, raising questions about the generalizability of its findings.”

California courts have also rejected Equality Labs’ fraudulent survey.

Q: How does Equality Labs marginalize the people it claims to represent?
A: Equality Labs claims to represent Dalits, Bahujans, and Adivasis, but ignores, excludes, and demonizes people from these groups who express disagreement with Equality Labs,labeling them as “right-wing radicals”. To this day, no one in Equality Labs’ leadership has engaged in an honest dialogue with people or organizations that take a different view on caste discrimination in the West.

SB 403 is opposed by several Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi organizations such as Ambedkar Phule Network of American Dalits and Bahujans. Furthermore, CoHNA’s Board and national leadership team itself includes Dalit and Bahujan leaders who are proud practicing Hindus, and who categorically reject the assumption that Equality Labs speaks for them or the criteria upon which SB 403 is premised.

The important thing to understand is what is defined as caste discrimination in the US. The list of caste markers might surprise you. They includie simple lifestyle choices like being vegetarian, being born with certain last names, celebrating Holi and Diwali, or sending your kids to Bal Vihar. 

One justification for SB 403 is that caste discrimination is an inexorable aspect of life in the South Asian diaspora, which is derived from Hindu scriptures and practices. Since Hindus revere and derive guidance from our scriptures – and since we engage the practices that are viewed from the outside as “casteist” – we are viewed by the advocates for SB 403 as uniquely prone to engage in caste discrimination. 

If you are a Hindu and wear markers – such as bindi, tilak or diya in your office – or if you display deity pictures or idols in your office or cubicle, you are recognized as a Hindu and are already at risk to suffer Hinduphobia in some form. SB 403 would add California state-sanctioned profiling of you as someone uniquely prone to caste discrimination. 

Finally, your surname may also identify you as a potential practitioner of caste discrimination. During the recently dismissed case against two managers at Cisco Systems, the State of California insisted that both individuals must be considered Hindus, even though one of the defendants, Sundar Iyer, is a self-professed atheist.

Don’t believe us? Check out the handy guide from Equality Labs on what they consider as practicing caste. Do remember these are the self styled “experts” who will be your judge, jury and executioner should a caste allegation be made

We as Hindus categorically reject the premise of this question. Caste discrimination is not a fundamental aspect of Hindu practices and identity. We oppose caste discrimination, we oppose the imposition of caste discrimination upon us, and we oppose being viewed as uniquely prone to engage in caste discrimination when history and current practice provides evidence that caste hierarchy and discrimination are found in multiple cultures.

Additionally this argument is a way of silencing opposition. In the years following 9/11, many civil liberties were stripped from Americans with the goal of combating terrorism. Those who protested against profiling and overreach were given similar reasoning: “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.”

In practice, laws like the USA Patriot Act and SB403 always lead to the profiling of certain groups, people with certain names, and people who engage in certain faith or cultural practices.

References

CASTEGATE: Outrageous Government Abuse in California

https://castegate.org/

Busting the Lies of Equality Labs

https://unravellingthetruth.org/busting-the-lies-of-equality-labs/

Equality Labs: Transporting Racist European Indology And Indian Anti-Hindu Movements To American Shores

https://swarajyamag.com/blogs/equality-labs-transporting-racist-european-indology-and-indian-anti-hindu-movements-to-american-shores

A Rebuttal to the Equality Labs Caste Report

https://medium.com/@rachelgotham5/a-rebuttal-to-equality-labs-caste-report-6535b883050

The Caste in Tech Witch-Hunt Explained

https://concernedkumar.medium.com/the-caste-in-tech-witch-hunt-explained-7d2f28e06762

State of California’s Rampant Hinduphobia

https://medium.com/@dyalade4/state-of-californias-rampant-hinduphobia-a70bf3b39d71

Equality Labs’ fraudulent 2018 caste report

https://unravellingthetruth.org/doc/EL-Caste_report_2018.pdf

Anti-Hindu Disinformation: A Case Study of Hinduphobia on Social Media

https://millercenter.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Hinduphobia-NC-Labs_6.22.22.pdf

Text of SB 403

https://legiscan.com/CA/text/SB403/id/2756322

Original filing in Cisco Systems caste discrimination case

https://drive.google.com/file/d/16DyfenI1O2-R5gbP9I-VtRhoVMsubrxC/view?usp=sharing

NCRI Report on Hinduphobia
https://networkcontagion.us/reports/7-11-22-anti-hindu-disinformation-a-case-study-of-hinduphobia-on-social-media/

NCRI Report on Extremist activites which have led to attacks on Hindu Temples
https://networkcontagion.us/reports/7-11-22-anti-hindu-disinformation-a-case-study-of-hinduphobia-on-social-media/

Equality Labs claims that Hindus scriptures enslave Dalits 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGQ4r4ElLyQ&t=4s

My child learned he was ‘low caste’ from a school textbook: An American Shudra story

https://religionnews.com/2021/06/23/my-child-learned-he-was-low-caste-from-a-school-textbook-an-american-shudra-story/