Tag Archives: HAF

Cisco Headquarters in San Jose (Image by Coolcaesar Wikipedia Under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Why California’s Lawsuit Against Cisco Uniquely Endangers Hindus & Indians

The State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the Silicon Valley tech giant Cisco Systems in June 2020, accusing the company of engaging in unlawful employment practices over a claim by an Indian-origin employee that two managers, also of Indian origin, allegedly discriminated against him based on his assumed caste. The case was initially filed in federal court but has since been re-filed in state court. Cisco Systems is promising a vigorous defense, rejecting the claim of discrimination.

The State’s claim goes well beyond the specific allegations of caste discrimination, however. Despite not knowing what caste is, it attempts to define it in a way that maligns an entire community and religion. In so much that caste discrimination is a kind of malice against someone based not on their inherent worth, but something else, HAF wholeheartedly agrees that it is wrong and condemnable.

But the State of California has defined Hinduism in contradiction to the precepts of the religion and the beliefs of an overwhelming number of its own adherents. This violates the religious freedom rights of Hindu Americans.

The State of California has also failed to provide any definition or workable method to determine anyone’s caste other than an assumption that Hindus of Indian descent must identify as part of a specific caste, ascribe to a “strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy,” and engage in caste discrimination. The State’s inaccurate and unconstitutional definition will perversely lead to increased targeting of and discrimination against Indian-origin, and particularly Hindu workers by marking them as a suspicious class. This violates the due process rights of Hindu Americans.

We vehemently oppose all types of caste-based discrimination. We also reject any claim that prejudice and discrimination based on caste are inherent to Hinduism and take great exception to the State of California’s defaming and demeaning of all Hindus by attempting to connect a caste system to the Hindu religion.

Here’s why.

California has unconstitutionally defined Hindu religious doctrine, and  perpetuated false and dangerous stereotypes equating caste-based discrimination with Hinduism and Hindus

California’s complaint states:

“As a strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy, India’s caste system defines a person’s status based on their religion, ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/color—or the caste into which they are born—and will remain until death.”  (emphasis added)

In connecting caste and caste-based discrimination to Hindu teachings and practice, the state’s suit explicitly defines and ties Hinduism to inequality.

The State of California’s assertion is a clear violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom because rather than allowing Hindus to define their religions for themselves, the state is defining the precepts and practices of Hinduism for Hindus.

Such unconstitutional overreach by the State of California should be concerning for all Americans.

Not only is California’s definition unconstitutional, it’s wrong 

Any assertion that caste discrimination is integral to Hindu teachings and practice is not only wrong, it traffics in anti-Hindu hate.

Hinduism teaches that the Divine is equally present in all. Because all beings are connected through this shared divine presence, prejudice and discrimination against anyone or any group violate this most profound and fundamental teaching and the moral duties of selflessness, non-injury, and truth evoked by it.

Hinduism’s wide array of sacred texts, stories, and poetry, and widely respected spiritual teachers, both past and present, repeatedly emphasize this profound life lesson. Moreover,  every major sampradaya (Hindu religious tradition) and Hindu socio-religious organization rejects caste-based discrimination.

California’s failure to provide any definition or workable method to determine anyone’s caste will lead to more discrimination

The only consistent factor California seeks to identify with caste is that it is an inherent part of Hinduism. That this authorizes or encourages seriously discriminatory enforcement against Hindus and Americans of South Asian descent is self-evident. Without any context outside of its asserted connection to Hinduism, the DFEH has provided no meaning or definition of caste and would set up a legal structure that actually requires the discrimination it seeks to prevent.

California has also blown a dog-whistle for anti-immigrant bigotry

The State of California frames the beginning of its complaint in blatantly racist and anti-immigrant terms. It alleges that Indians are “significantly overrepresented” at Cisco, which could be read to be implying that similarly qualified non-Indian immigrants are being ignored in hiring there and at other tech companies.

Such framing — that hordes of Indians are overrepresented, taking away American jobs —  is common rhetoric amongst anti-immigrant extremists and hate groups.

Predictably, news of the lawsuit is stoking a spate of xenophobic attacks targeting Indian and Hindu Americans. A recent story covering the case in Breitbart evinced comments like these:

“We don’t want too many Indians in the USA. After all, look what those geniuses did to India. Too many geniuses in one place seems to be a bad thing.”

California also perpetuates racist European theories about caste

California’s claims about Hinduism and its conflation of caste with race and color, stem not from Hindu understanding of their own religion and history, but rather from the misinformed and misrepresentative assertions by Western Europeans.

British colonial occupation defined Hinduism not based on Indians’ own understandings of Hinduism’s precepts and practices, but rather on the British’s own 18th and 19th-century belief in their superiority over non-white, non-Christian peoples outside of Europe. British colonial government latched onto existing non-uniform, highly localized social and cultural divisions within India to devise a four-fold pan-Indian caste system to use to control the occupied.

The caste system as defined by the State of California is merely a reflection of this British-created administrative tool and the scientific racism in vogue.

 California is targeting its Californians of Indian descent.

Discrimination based on national origin is already prohibited under US law as is ancestry and ethnicity under many state laws and public and private sector employment policies. National origin, ancestry, and ethnicity have been interpreted as protecting against discrimination based on birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics — all of which are social markers associated with the various theories about caste.

Every protected class under US civil rights law, namely race, national origin (ancestry/ethnicity), gender, religion, disability, age, and now sexual orientation, is broad, facially neutral, and universal. They seek to address well-documented bases of discrimination broadly.

Caste as a specific category is problematic because it singles out and targets people of Indian descent given the singular association of caste and a caste system with India. Caste as a specific class also suggests that there is a prevalent form of prejudice and malice amongst only people of Indian and/or South Asian descent and Hindus that is so entirely different and abhorrent that they should be marked a suspicious class based on their race, national origin, ethnicity, or religion and specifically monitored and policed. This in itself is discriminatory because prejudice and discrimination based on social backgrounds such as clan, class, sect, tribe, or other factors are prevalent within all countries and cultures.

Conclusion

Stopping prejudice and discrimination are worthy goals that directly further Hinduism’s teaching about the equality of the divine essence of all people.

Companies should work on creating a safe environment for all employees to thrive and be mutually respected. Any issues of unfair treatment should be thoroughly addressed and resolved.

But wrongly tying Hinduism and Hindus to the abhorrent act of caste discrimination undermines that goal and violates the First Amendment rights of all Hindu Americans.  It denies them due process based on their religious affiliation by uniquely targeting them in the absence of any universally accepted understanding of what “caste” is or proof of widespread discrimination on its basis.


The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) is an educational and advocacy organization established in 2003.

This article was originally published on their website here.


 

Our World is Online: Cyberbullying Rises

Digital culture has become all the more important in our social lives as we navigate a global pandemic. The face of a screen is no longer a source of personal entertainment, but our only real connection with the outside world. Most of my birthday was spent blowing out candles in front of a Skype monitor and finishing up a math test on Zoom. Everything from our next meal to our first meeting is defined by the version of ourselves we create for the Internet. And while I’m grateful that social media platforms can provide a surrogate for human interaction, I’m equally concerned by its implications.

Dr. Dhara Thakar Meghani MD

To discuss the troubling rise in cyberbullying amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Hindu American Foundation hosted a webinar featuring Dr. Abhay Dandekar MD and Dr. Dhara Thakar Meghani MD. A non-profit organization established in 2003, HAF is dedicated to educating the public about Hindus and their diverse culture. In their own words, they believe in, “promoting dignity, mutual respect, and pluralism in order to ensure the well-being of Hindus and for all people and the planet to thrive. Our positions are based on a relentless pursuit of facts; deep consideration of Hindu principles and American values, such as freedom, equality, and justice; and the input of subject matter experts.”

The webinar first outlined the nature of cyberbullying itself, which is unwanted and aggressive behavior transmitted through devices such as cell phones, computers, and tablets. While traditional cyberbullying refers to subjecting an individual to harsh criticism and public ridicule, other variants of this abuse have become more common in recent years. Doxxing, for instance, is an illegal practice by which a cyberbully releases the personal information of a victim, such as his or her home address, phone number, photograph, full name, etc. Because laws surrounding online harassment are still nebulous, Dr. Dandekar mentions, it crosses into illegal territory without detection or proper attention. And when left unattended, this digital abuse can lead to various health complications in the future, such as mental illnesses, appetite loss, and even heart disease. Just because

What makes cyberbullying such an apt topic for this webinar is how our lives have changed amid self-isolation. For one,  children’s internet activity is less likely to be monitored by their parents since they have to navigate their job and household responsibilities at the same time. The lack of structure and surveillance can often lead to destructive behavior. But children are not the only ones impacted by digital media. The virus has also led to a troubling spike in xenophobia and hate crimes, which seep through the cracks of Internet culture. A month ago, social media star Malu Trevejo was under fire for spreading anti-Asian sentiments during a session on her Instagram live. And the isolation policy makes individuals like Trevejo feel less accountable for their actions and the hateful messages they spread.

Before closing off the webinar, HAF provided some helpful advice regarding how to avoid toxicity on the Internet and forge substantial connections despite the pandemic. Dr. Dandekar recommended using platforms that allow at least some kind of physical interaction, such as video chat apps or phone calls. “If we’re going to use a device, let’s try to talk on the phone. Let’s try and have real-time visual content..these are easy things we can participate in as parents and teens and kids.” And I can understand Dr. Dandekar’s point. Personally, I find conversations with my extended family so much more meaningful when I can hear the sound of their voice or see them smiling.

It’s a gentle reminder that beyond our digital personalities are humans, all of us trying to understand the unnavigable.

To watch the rest of HAF’s webinar and find resources, click here!

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Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Indian Law Catches up with Indian Culture

When the Indian Supreme Court struck down the colonial-era law which criminalized consensual homosexual intercourse under Indian Penal Code Section 377, sex deemed “against the order of nature” could be punished with life imprisonment. Now, Indian law has caught up with Indian culture, leaders of the Hindu American Foundation asserted.

“There is no fundamental reason in Hindu spiritual teachings to reject or ostracize homosexuals. The core of Hindu spiritual teachings is that an individual’s essential nature is not rooted in his or her sexual orientation, or any external physical traits. What is most important is our ability to simultaneously embrace and see beyond these apparent external differences to celebrate the Divine core of our being, to transcend the body, senses, and ego.” — Swami Venkataraman, HAF National Leadership Council member and author of HAF’s brief on Hinduism and homosexuality.

With decriminalization of consensual sexual relations finally achieved, one remaining challenge for Indians, both in India and the diaspora, is fully making our families, religious centers, and organizations a welcoming space for LGBTQ individuals. That will be one more important step in shedding the Victorian-era mores that continue to influence Indic-sensibilities today.

Read HAF’s past statements and articles on Hinduism and/or homosexuality:

Senate Should Pass Proposed Legislation Protecting Religious Institutions

Washington, DC (April 19, 2018) — With hate crimes motivated by religious bias on the rise, according to the latest FBI statistics, it’s vital that Congress pass legislation making threats against religious institutions a Federal crime and imposing criminal penalties for causing damage or destruction to religious property.

As such, the Hindu American Foundation strongly urges the Senate to pass S. 994, the Protecting Religiously-Affiliated Institutions Act of 2017.

This legislation amends the existing Church Arson Prevention Act to cover bomb threats and other credible threats of violence to community religious institutions and community centers.

The House version of this legislation, HR 1730, was passed last December with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Expressing support for this legislation, HAF leaders say: “Religious communities are feeling increasingly insecure, given the recent uptick in hate motivated incidents and threats, including the recent spate of bomb threats and vandalism against Jewish community institutions and cemeteries, the burning of a mosque in Texas, the vandalism against two Hindu temples in Washington, and the hate crime shooting of Hindu immigrants, Srinivas Kuchibotla and Alok Madasani in Kansas.”

HAF has sent a letter urging passage of S. 994 to Sen. Charles Grassley, Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary, and to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member, Committee of the Judiciary. Read the full letter here.

The bill is currently pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.