Two views on whether US needs law against caste

RITU JHA

Santa Clara agreeing to make caste-based discrimination at the work place illegal by law would mean much more than one county acknowledging the problem, said Dalit rights advocates.

The Santa Clara County Human Rights Commission recently said it “will consider adding caste discrimination as an item to focus in our 2022 fiscal year workplan.”

Anu Mandavilli, who attended the commission’s ad-hoc committee forum, and a supporter of Ambedkar King Study Circle, told indica News: “The hope is it gets implemented all over.  Gay marriage started in the city of San Francisco and now look at it today.”

Asked why a law was needed in America, Mandavillli said: “It’s important because in the Cisco case when the Dalit engineer felt he was being discriminated against because of his caste identity, he went to human resources.”

They (human resources) said caste discrimination is not illegal in California and they did not know how to address this issue,” Mandavilli said.

If something like this exists in the law — just like in the case of gay marriage — then people think about it, and discuss it. So, the hope is that more people will come forward,” she said.

At the Santa Clara County Human Rights Commission forum, the Hindu American Foundation argued that the law taking cognizance of caste would lead to Hinduphobia.

HAF managing director Samir Karla told indica News: “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 Santa Clara County or across the country.”

However, he added, “at this time, there is no concrete or reliable data on the extent to which caste-based discrimination may or may not be taking place in Santa Clara County or the US, more broadly, and whether it is a widespread problem or not.

Even if it is, Santa Clara County and any other city, state, or county should find a solution that is facially neutral and universally applicable to provide protection,” Kalra said.

Why would making caste discrimination illegal lead to Hinduphobia and anti-India sentiment?

We fully support the rights of anyone discriminated against on the basis of caste and want them to receive help and protection any time they face discrimination in the workplace or other settings,”Kalra replied.

By inserting a new anti-discrimination category that covers caste and only applies to Indian Americans, however, will not solve the issue.”

He argued that the inclusion of caste as a specific category would single out and wrongly target only one community, merely based on the fact that they are Indian.

The beauty of our current anti-discrimination policies and laws is that they are neutral, and apply to everyone, not just some particular groups,” Kalra said.

We would similarly be against a law that unfairly targeted any other group in this manner, whether Middle Eastern, East Asian, or others,” he said.

Instead, we need to help anyone discriminated against on the basis of caste find protection and remedies for discrimination under current anti-discrimination policies and by applying local, state, and federal anti-discrimination laws that would cover caste under ancestry or national origin.”

He added: “Accordingly, we believe the solution to addressing issues of caste-based discrimination lie in enforcing existing law and educating people of their rights, ensuring companies are compliant with their legal obligations, and cultural competency training as our communities and companies grow increasingly diverse.”