Caste Is Now Weaponized In opposition to Indian Individuals

India’s caste system has lengthy been a rivalry between students, activists, and politicians. Public opinion is split between those that argue caste is endemic to Hinduism, and people who state birth-based social hierarchies are a social evil ossified over the millennia and usually are not prescribed in classical Hindu texts. 

Proponents of the latter view argue it’s unfair to border caste as an integral a part of Hinduism whereas bypassing the faith’s non secular and inventive contributions. They argue that if one utilized the identical logic to finding out different faiths, slavery, genocide, and jihadi terrorism could be seen as covalent to Christianity and Islam.  

There are rigorous anti-caste legal guidelines in impact in India. Article 15 prohibits the state from discriminating in opposition to any citizen primarily based on faith, race, caste, intercourse, or hometown. Article 17 states the follow of “untouchability” is abolished, and its follow is forbidden. The marginalized and weak are afforded related protections in democratic societies, but these very important protections are flouted with impunity worldwide as a result of numerous socio-political and cultural components. 

Concentrating on folks of religion as the only driving power behind bigotry of any type is condemned as bigoted and ignorant. But that is how Hinduism is framed by the far-left in India—significantly opponents of India’s ruling get together, the Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP)—and by activists within the West that superimpose western racial hierarchies over the caste system.

In February, Seattle, Washington, grew to become the primary metropolis in america to ban discrimination primarily based on caste. Together with race and gender, caste can not be the idea of discrimination on this metropolis. Proponents of the legislation declare casteism is not confined to the borders of the Indian subcontinent and has reached American shores with the burgeoning Indian diaspora; the laws is a mandatory corrective.

A outstanding Hindu advocacy group, the Hindu American Basis (HAF), has fought tooth and nail in opposition to this laws and in opposition to efforts to painting caste as endemic to the Hindu faith. I spoke to Suhag Shukla, the HAF Government Director, concerning the impact of this laws on the day-to-day lives of Indians in america. 

She spoke to me at size concerning the origins of the HAF and responded to accusations of “Hindu nationalism” that bedevil the group. She shared her ideas on why it’s a class mistake to conflate western racial hierarchies with caste and why the laws is a “self-goal” for the diaspora. 

[We have edited this interview lightly for clarity.]  

Vikram Zutshi: The HAF’s cultural and political advocacy is well-known, however just some know its origins. As a founding member, are you able to clarify how the HAF got here into being? 

Suhag Shukla: HAF was based by second-generation Hindu Individuals. Raised in numerous components of the nation, we skilled the battle between our understanding of teachings, tradition, historical past, and challenges and the views of friends, academics, and communities. 

We have been affected by totally different features of this breakdown in understanding. Distortions in Hinduism educating, strain to adapt to Christian norms, mis-portrayals in media, lack of voice in coverage areas, and human rights atrocities confronted by Hindus compelled us to “do one thing.” Recognizing the Jewish group’s want, we constructed a US-based, unbiased, non-partisan establishment with skilled consultants selling Hinduism and Hindu well-being.

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Vikram Zutshi: You lately said, “Seattle caste ban just isn’t historic, it’s a self-goal. After cows and curry, Indians will face this.” How is anti-caste laws going to impression Indians in america every day? Who’re the political actors behind this motion, and what, in your view, is their agenda? 

Suhag Shukla: The motion’s agenda is fueled by anti-Hindu hatred, which has thrived on the far ends of the left and the suitable. It’s led by neo-Buddhists or Ambedkerites who equate the reason for any social inequities in India with Hinduism. 

The supporting solid contains people and organizations with lengthy histories of anti-Hindu activism, together with supporting separatist or terrorist actions calling for the creation of unbiased theocratic states of Khalistan and Kashmir. It additionally brings in conservative Christian organizations, which have used the caste trope for hundreds of years to focus on marginalized communities all through South Asia for “missionizing.” Caste laws impression on US Indians: elevated office uncertainty, decreased alternatives, notion as nuisance and legal responsibility. 

They’ve opened the floodgates to ethno-racial profiling Indians and attributing “guilt” or wrongdoing by looking for a coverage that singles out and targets folks of 1 ethnicity to the exclusion of everybody else. They’ve frauded the general public with falsified knowledge and deceptive examples equivalent to being a vegetarian or speaking about taking kids to Bala Vihar as examples of “casteism,” creating an environment of worry and uncertainty for Indian employees on what’s protected to share and what’s not. 

Coverage directors can be left having to tackle the legal responsibility of implementing a discriminatory coverage. In the long term, will probably be extra expedient to not rent South Asians.

Vikram Zutshi: In some quarters, the HAF is taken into account the “American arm” of India’s ruling get together, the BJP. What are your views on this notion of ‘twin loyalty’ that an American group may foyer for a international political entity? 

Suhag Shukla: Beneath US legislation, any group/person that lobbies or in any other case represents a international entity should register with the US Division of Justice. Lobbying for a international entity with out registering has severe authorized implications, so any allegations have to be backed by unequivocal reality, not insinuation, as is common within the quarters you check with. 

The actual fact is HAF is an entirely unbiased American group. We have now no affiliation or ties to organizations or political events within the US or overseas. The notion that we reply to or do the bidding of India’s ruling get together, not to mention any political get together, is fake. 

Accusations of twin loyalty are used to otherize us as by some means not being “actually” American. They fearmonger about us doing the bidding of a international authorities as a substitute of getting reliable considerations and aspirations as Individuals. 

It paints American Hindu efforts to self-define as a suspect. It robs us of the company to have interaction within the public sq. as Hindu Individuals, put money into our group wants, and contribute doable options rooted in Hindu teachings to probably the most crucial problems with our age. 

These accusing HAF of being “an arm” or “Hindu proper” or “Hindu nationalist”—primarily twin loyalty—ought to be seen for what they’re doing: exhibiting their bigotries or ideologies and inciting xenophobia. 

Vikram Zutshi: In a press release a couple of case by which the state of California filed a caste discrimination lawsuit in opposition to Cisco Techniques, you mentioned, “HAF vehemently opposes all discrimination, and stopping it’s a worthy purpose, one which instantly furthers Hinduism’s teachings concerning the equal presence of the divine in all folks, however, wrongly tying Hindu spiritual beliefs to the abhorrent act of caste discrimination undermines that purpose and violates the First and Fourteenth Modification rights of all Hindu Individuals.”

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Inform us concerning the CISCO case and HAF’s position in it. 

Suhag Shukla: On September 20, 2022, HAF sued the California Civil Rights Division in america District Courtroom for violating Hindu Individuals’ civil rights within the state. In its federal court docket submitting, HAF asserts California acted “unconstitutionally” in its case, alleging caste discrimination occurring at Cisco Techniques, by looking for to outline what Hindus imagine and determine how they follow their faith, in violation of the First Modification. 

HAF’s lawsuit states the Civil Rights Division (previously generally known as the Division of Honest Employment and Housing) wrongly asserts “{that a} caste system and caste-based discrimination are integral components of Hindu educating and practices by declaring the caste system to be a ‘strict Hindu social and non secular hierarchy,’ which requires discrimination by ‘social customized and authorized mandate.’” This motion adopted earlier authorized motion courting again to January 2021, when HAF filed for injunctive reduction in the identical case in opposition to Cisco. If HAF succeeds, the Civil Rights Division should revise its Cisco case submitting, because it’s primarily based on the false concept that Hindu perception includes a caste system and wrongly equates caste with coloration and race.

Vikram Zutshi: You may have said on social media and in articles that caste is being weaponized in opposition to Hindus by sure activist teams. Hindus For Human Rights (HfHR) and Equality Labs have accused the HAF of advancing “fascist” Hindutva politics in America. What’s the HAF’s official response to those allegations? 

Suhag Shukla: These labels are extra a mirrored image of the ideologies of Equality Labs and HfHR than they’re of HAF. Our place on any subject is predicated on a relentless pursuit of details and deep consideration of Hindu ideas and American values, equivalent to freedom, equality, and justice. We advocate on numerous points, permitting us to work constructively with lawmakers and stakeholders on totally different sides of the aisle.

An goal have a look at the coverage positions HAF has advocated for accuses that any of them are “fascist” seems to be ludicrous. On most points, HAF is aligned with teams selling liberal values: girls’s rights, LGBT rights, free speech, separation of faith and state, animal safety, environmental conservation, and others. 

HAF’s place has aligned with what will be known as a “center-left,” “traditional liberal,” or democratic place. On some international coverage positions—human rights and counter-terrorism—HAF’s positions align with centrist or center-right positions within the US None of those will be described as fascist or extremist. 

Vikram Zutshi: There appears to be a well-coordinated effort in educational circles to equate race in America with the south asian caste system. Is caste comparable with race? If not, why? 

Suhag Shukla: The historical past of anti-black racism in America is tied to the slave commerce, a system of capturing, transporting, promoting, and exploiting Black Africans, accompanied by a denigration of them as sub-human primarily based on their ethnic ancestry and pores and skin coloration. All of this was backed by the power of legislation in america and was the first reason behind the US Civil Battle, adopted by a interval of authorized racial segregation. 

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Some Christians pseudo-scientifically and anthropologically justified it on the time and gave moral approval primarily based on their theology. (A few of the strongest abolitionist voices have been impressed by a unique interpretation of Christian scripture. It is very important observe this.) 

Many remaining social stigmas and financial challenges exist for black folks within the US Racism primarily based on pores and skin coloration is way and away the biggest type of discrimination within the US in the present day. 

Social discrimination in India and South Asia continues primarily based on perceived variations that aren’t distinctive to any tradition. Nonetheless, the “caste system” is distinct from the idea of race in America. 

There has by no means been a single factor generally known as caste, as some students and activists declare. Nor has there ever been a single unchanging, pan-Indian caste system that legally enforces a birth-based inflexible, oppressive social and theological hierarchy maintained by so-called higher caste members of society, supported by Hindu scripture, throughout 1000’s of years. 

There has by no means been a pores and skin coloration part to Indian social divisions. The central Hindu non secular teachings and all main Hindu academics, gurus, and swamis in the present day oppose such an idea and ask we see unity in our shared divinity. 

What has change into generally known as “caste”—a phrase deriving from Portuguese and intertwined with European notions of social hierarchy being mapped onto their expertise of Indian society—is a mixture of the Indian idea varna (the classes of occupation in society), jati (endogamous social teams), and different classes of social id. The interaction has been dynamic and sophisticated all through historical past, differing in angle and software throughout the geography of India. 

None of those social dynamics has been codified into legislation or enforced by the state or rulers, like slavery or racial segregation in america. We imagine social discrimination is fallacious, irrespective of its origins, and that Hindu teachings absolutely help such a view. 

Vikram Zutshi: You’ve labored tirelessly for the Kashmiri Hindu trigger in America. Inform us about your advocacy efforts for Kashmir’s exiled minority. 

Suhag Shukla: All through HAF’s historical past, we’ve got highlighted the plight of Kashmir’s exiled Hindu minority — whether or not they have been internally displaced inside India or have left and change into a part of the diaspora. We have now documented this case in our human rights stories. 

We have now held quite a few occasions in Washington, DC, for the general public, media, and elected officers on this subject. We have now produced many academic supplies documenting the historical past of the scenario, highlighting inaccurate and/or biased media protection of Kashmir, and a video collection on YouTube documenting the historical past of the Kashmir Battle and the ethnic cleaning that occurred three many years in the past. We have now had interviews with younger Kashmiris, from Hindu and Muslim communities, on the scenario post-Article 370 and the attitude of unbiased worldwide relations consultants who’ve traveled to Kashmir. 

[Conner Tighe edited this article.]

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Honest Observer’s editorial coverage.