Two Hindu professors are suing the head of their university system to oppose the addition of caste to an anti-discrimination policy amid a broader battle over whether colleges should explicitly call out caste-based bias.
The California State University System professors argue that naming caste as a protected characteristic unfairly targets Hindus and wrongly suggests that oppression and discrimination are among Hinduism’s core tenets. Sunil Kumar and Praveen Sinha contend in the complaint, filed Monday, that Hinduism is about compassion and equanimity — principles directly opposed to a discriminatory caste system.
Here are some things I believe
– This law is impractical and wrongheaded. There are very few Dalits in the US, so there is by definition very little discrimination against Dalits (even if you grant that individual Dalits experience pervasive discrimination, which I honestly do not grant). Additionally, most Americans cannot tell different types of brown people apart, so its impact is not religious-cultural but racial.
– Hinduism has a strong connection with the caste system because Hinduism, as it exists today, developed out of the indigenous religious systems of the Indian subcontinent, and those religious systems are inextricably connected to Indian culture, which is riven with caste.
– Caste consciousness also seems pretty pervasive among many Christians and Muslims in the subcontinent.
– If you view religion as a bundle of characteristics that change over time, there’s nothing fundamental to Hinduism, or any other religion. This is my personal belief. For most of its history, Islam and slavery were closely connected because slavery is addressed in the sharia. That ended in the 20th century for historically contingent reasons. Though some level of varna awareness seems to exist in Bali and among the Chams of Vietnam, the elaborate jati system does not. Probably because here Hinduism is unmoored from its Indian matrix.
Some interesting quotes…
But Sundaram said many younger Hindus have formed alliances with other affinity groups, such as Black Lives Matter, and are more inclined to call out caste discrimination.
Young American Hindus are the least likely to care, or even know, much about caste. But they are the ones worried about it and engaging in activism. This is performative because they are progressives searching for a problem that is fading and diminishing before their eyes.
Most importantly, she said, she disagrees with the Hindu American Foundation’s argument that caste is not foundational to Hinduism.
“You absolutely can acknowledge this as part of the tradition and fight back against it, but to argue that it doesn’t exist in the tradition, it’s just false,” Sundaram said. “There’s just no way to really make that case.”
Foundational and traditional are distinct. Is the reporter engaging in manipulation, or did the activist professor consciously misunderstand?