Coalition of Hindus of North America

Businesses and Organizations – Sign the Letter Opposing California Bill SB-403

Calling California businesses, organizations and community groups to oppose SB-403, a new bill which proposes to add "caste" as a protected category. However, the bill advances bigotry against people of South Asian origin and other minorities and is based on faulty data and racist assumptions.

Sign the below letter opposing California SB-403.


NOTE – YOU MUST BE AN AUTHORIZED BUSINESS REPRESENTATIVE OR OFFICER OR BOARD MEMBER OF THE ORGANIZATION, TEMPLE OR ASSOCIATION TO ITS NAME.

LETTER TO CALIFORNIA SENATE AND ASSEMBLY:

 

To the Honorable Members of the California Senate and Assembly:

We, the undersigned, who represent a broad spectrum of organizations, temples, and cultural associationsurge you to vote NO on Senator Aisha Wahab’s SB-403 Bill [1] which proposes to add “caste” as a protected category in California.  

SB-403 is biased against minority groups and targets South Asians, along with other people of color such as those from the Japanese, African and South American diaspora. We fear the bill will encourage religious profiling and stereotyping of a minority.  We believe it advances baseless hateful narratives against these communities by legalizing a presumption of guilt. If passed, the bill violates the civil rights of South Asians and other people of color and denies them equal protection and due process.

Existing laws (both at the federal and the state level in California) already provide protections against discrimination under categories such as 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), culture and ethnicity. 

Far from being an example of progressive anti-discrimination legislation, to the best of our knowledge, this is an unprecedented legislation in post-1965 Civil Rights Act America that would create a new crime of which only one targeted demographic and social group can be found guilty. This is profiling at its worst and reminiscent of Jim Crow era discriminatory laws in several states. 

Below are some important reasons why you should VOTE NO for this bill.

  1. 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 alleging without any proof that California has a “grave caste discrimination” problem. The bill’s proponents cite the lawsuit by the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) against two Indian-American engineers. However, it bears repeating that after 3 years of litigation the case remains unproven. Recent legal developments in the case raise considerable doubt regarding the ultimate success of the CRD in proving its allegation. As of January 2023, the defendants have filed a motion for sanctions against the CRD for filing a legally frivolous complaint and asking for sanctions for prosecutorial overreach [2]. In fact it appears that the CRD might be preparing to dismiss the case [3].

This assumption of implicit guilt turns a long-standing bedrock principle of American justice on its head. 

  1. The proponents of SB-403 have cited the recent California State University (CSU) action to add caste to existing anti-discrimination categories, but CSU’s policy has already resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the Chancellor of CSU and its Trustees in a Federal District Court for the unfair and disparate treatment of members of the Indian and South Asian communities and adherents of the Hindu religion.
  2. There is no universally recognized definition of “caste” anywhere in the world. Yet, the bill attempts to define the category based on false assumptions pushed by groups and activists known for their bigotry. It also creates the false binary of “oppressor” and “oppressed” simply based on self-identification of one group while presuming other people of South Asian descent guilty by default if they don’t identify as such.
  3. How does the State of California plan to adjudicate these complaints or determine someone’s “caste?” 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. Any litigation around “caste” discrimination will come up against strict guidelines set by the Supreme Court for Title VII claims [4], subjecting the state to costly litigation and legal imbroglio. In fact, such an experiment is a stark reminder of the racist and colonial policy implemented by the British to rule Indians and advance their inherent prejudice against the native “savage” population.
  4. As seen in public appearances by Senator Wahab, the bill is heavily dependent on false narratives supplied by biased special interest groups such as Equality Labs who are known for their bigotry and hate speech against the Hindu American community — openly calling for Hinduism to be dismantled and publicly calling millions of Hindus “rapists” simply due to their birth. In March 2020, Equality Labs attacked the extremely popular Hindu 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 [5]. Such hate should not be mainstreamed by a state as committed to diversity as California is.
  5. There are several well documented problems with the Equality Labs “survey” as laid out in various articles [6]. Indeed, the quality and data of this report were challenged comprehensively back in 2018 [7] when it was first distributed. More recently, a 2020 survey on Indian Americans by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace [8] called out the survey’s flaws, indicating the following (emphasis added):

“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.”

In its own report, Equality Labs acknowledges that its study was not statistically tested for significance (page 39, “Caste in the United States”)

  1. SB-403 would create perverse incentives to ostracize and discriminate against Indian Americans, particularly Hindu Indian Americans. For example, corporations and other organizations might be less inclined to hire Indian Americans and South Asians more broadly because of perceived exposure to additional litigation risk in matters of employment discrimination especially given the complex and vague nature of this new legal protected category [9]. We already have one real-world example from UC San Diego where their Ethnic Studies Department announced a policy that would target “caste-privileged” South Asian scholars, students and administrators by deprioritizing their hiring and admissions and attacking them as casteist. 

We 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, federal and state laws already provide protection from discrimination under categories of national origin, ancestry and religion which is sufficient to encompass any alleged caste discrimination.

As such, we strongly urge you to not adopt any laws that would unfairly target the people of South Asian descent or origin, along with other communities of color, subject them to additional scrutiny, leave them vulnerable to bullying in schools, provide perverse incentives to disfavor hiring of South Asian and particularly Hindu Indian-Americans, and deprive them of their fundamental civil rights in the workplace and elsewhere. 

We urge you to Vote NO on SB-403.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

REFERENCES:

[1] SB-403 Discrimination on the basis of caste

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240SB403

[2] Defendants’ Memorandum of law in support of motion for sanctions, filed Jan 11, 2023

https://castegate.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Motion-for-Sanctions.pdf

[3]  Case management statement filed on Dec 30, 2022; see point 18 “Other Issues” on page 5 at the URL below:

https://castegate.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/IyerKompellaCaseMgmt_12_31_2022.pdf

[4] University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, Supreme Court of the United States, Docket No. 12-484 (June 24, 2013)

[5] Web Archive of a Medium article (now deleted) published by Equality Labs, “Why Do We Say No to Holi?”

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

[6] “Anatomy of a Dishonest Survey”, Medium article

[7] “Recrimination or Reconciliation?”, India Abroad Op-Ed

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

[8] “Social Realities of Indian Americans: Results from the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey”, Survey by the Carnegie Endowment

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

[9] “The Caste Train and the Witch Hunt of Hindus”, Op-Ed in India West Journal

https://indiawest.com/the-caste-train-and-the-witch-hunt-of-hindus/

[10] Press release by UC San Diego Ethnic Studies Department while announcing winners of the Undergraduate Essay Contest of 2020-2021

https://ethnicstudies.ucsd.edu/news-and-events/index.html