Cisco caste case: HAF says Hindus wronged

RITU JHA

The Hindu American Foundation has sought to intervene in the alleged caste-discrimination case at tech giant Cisco, contending that the case constitutes “unconstitutional efforts of the State of California to decide the scope and nature of Hindu religious teachings and practices.”

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) case against Cisco and two of its Indian origin employees alleges that the upper caste employees harassed another Indian employee in their capacity as managers and “outed” him as a Dalit — the lowest rung in the caste hierarchy — to colleagues.

The HAF has filed a motion in the Santa Clara County Superior Court to intervene in the case.

HAF’s position in this dispute is clear — a caste system is in no way a legitimate part of Hindu beliefs, teachings or practices,” the introduction to the motion said. “HAF vehemently opposes all types of caste-based discrimination; and takes great exception to the State of California defaming and demeaning all of Hinduism by attempting to connect a caste system to the Hindu religion.

Worse, California has not simply stated that the caste system is an inherent part of Hinduism, it has filed a lawsuit that depends on that assertion to be a legally-accepted fact in order to establish its claim; it is axiomatic that a practice unconnected to religion cannot serve as the basis for a religious-discrimination claim,” the HAF said.

The DFEH first filed the case on June 30, 2020. However, due to the backlog of cases and the pandemic the case got dismissed. The DFEH filed the case again in October, though this time in the State Superior Court of Santa Clara.

Tim Travelstead, managing attorney at Narayan Travelstead PC representing the case of behalf of the HAF, told indica News that his client is not asking the court to block the case, “but to dismiss the religious claims erroneously linking the caste system to the Hindu religion.”

HAF is not seeking money, but rather to block the DFEH from violating the first amendment,” Travelstead said.

He said that if the DFEH believes the caste system should be illegal, they cannot accomplish that by wrongly claiming it is part of Hinduism.

We are not here to decide whether discrimination happened or did not happen. That is not our role. Our interest in the case is to prevent the DFEH from unconstitutional defining Hindu beliefs and practices,” Travelstead said.

The government is uniquely banned from participating in the conversation about what constitutes Hinduism. The DFEH position as expressed in the case is wrong and defamatory,” he added.

According to the court document obtained by indica News, “HAF states that the State of California is attempting to define Hinduism against the beliefs of an overwhelming number of its own adherents, in direct violation of the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. It is attempting to chain Hinduism to a discriminatory practice abhorred by and rejected by the vast majority of Hindu Americans. And in doing so, the State of California is violating the First Amendment and due process rights of all Hindu Americans.”

HAF executive director Suhag Shukla said through a press note: “HAF vehemently opposes all discrimination and stopping it is a worthy goal, one that directly furthers Hinduism’s teachings about the equal presence of the Divine in all people. But, wrongly tying Hindu religious beliefs to the abhorrent act of caste discrimination undermines that goal and violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of all Hindu Americans.”

In its filing, HAF asserted that California provided no 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 “social and religious hierarchy,” and engage in caste discrimination.

This inaccurate and unconstitutional definition would perversely lead to increased targeting of and discrimination against Indian-origin, and particularly Hindu workers, it said.

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