“Singles Out Hindus;" Professors Sue Over Anti-Caste Discrimination Policy

Two Hindu professors are suing California State University (CSU) over the plan to enact an allegedly discriminatory policy.

Professors Sunil Kumar and Praveen Sinha filed a complaint to block the university from implementing a policy that elevates the caste system into a protected status. According to Kumar, the CSU's Interim Policy "singles out all Indian origin and Hindu staff and students."

"This, by its very definition, is discrimination and a denial of our basic civil rights," Kumar added.

"We fully and vehemently oppose all forms of prejudice and discrimination," Kumar declared.

Sinha said they will not follow CSU's "misguided policy." "Especially when there are other generally applicable and neutral categories already protected under CSU's non-discrimination policy that can be used to address incidents of alleged caste discrimination," Sinha said.

"We regret having to take this action," Sinha added.

The duo's decision to pursue legal actions against CSU followed the 2018 study by the Equality Lab, a civil rights organization whose goal is to end the oppression of caste apartheid, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and religious intolerance.

Equality Lab's 2018 study showed that 25% of the 1,500 Dalit participants in the U.S. experienced verbal or physical assault because of their caste. The 2018 report is the same one that prompted Harvard University's Harvard Graduate Student Union to create caste-sensitive policies and projects.

According to Suhag Shukla, Executive Director, and Samir Kalra, Managing Director of the Hindu American Foundation, CSU's move violates the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment, including the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

In the complaint filed to the California federal court, CSU allegedly imposed that caste is integral to the Hindu religion, despite having no constitutional ground for dictating religious beliefs.

CSU also allegedly singled out Hinduism in its interim policy.

"CSU has created a dangerous precedent of institutionalizing bias against Hindu faculty and students of Indian origin," Kalra explained. Kalra also accused CSU of "trampling over the most basic and fundamental rights guaranteed by the U.S. and California constitutions."

In an interview with Religion News Service (RNS), Toni Molle, spokesperson for CSU, said the policy aimed to label the caste system a category of discrimination.

"The policy reflects the university's commitment to inclusivity and respect, making each and every one of our 23 CSU campuses always a place of access, opportunity, and equity for all," Molle told RNS.

Supporters of CSU's policy argued that the policy would help combat caste-based discrimination.

Dheepa Sundaram of the University of Denver and Simran Jeet Singh of the Aspen Institute said castes exist in South Asian communities in the U.S. "it continues to constrain social and cultural practices, including marriage, meal sharing, and friendship," Sundaram said.

However, Kumar and Sinha argued that the policy would formalize the caste system in CSU's policies. They argued that CSU would forcibly assign a caste to an individual to enforce anti-discriminatory policies.

"How else will CSU be able to determine if discrimination based on caste occurred unless they ascribe a caste not only to the allegedly discriminating actor but to the alleged victim as well?" Kumar and Sinha argued.

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