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Does the Seattle Caste Legislation soft-sell Hinduphobia?

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A conference that took place about a year and a half back had called for the dismantling of ‘global Hindutva’. The conference that was streamed online received a lot of backlash from Hindu rights groups and Hindu citizens across the world. It had on its list of sponsors the names of several leading American universities (some of these names were withdrawn later on).

The conference essentially demonized anybody who spoke of Hindu rights and practiced Hindu activism. The logic espoused by this line of thought is that anybody who has anything to do with Hindutva is oppressive, anti-Dalit, anti-women, anti-minorities, and anti-human rights by default. That seems like quite a leap of logic for anyone with common sense. But not for the folks whose ‘activism’ and ‘scholarship’ is rooted in this kind of anti-logic.

Caste is pretty much the only weapon in the hands of people who critique Hindutva. They have also created this dichotomy between Hinduism and Hindutva saying that those who only follow Hinduism and are apolitical are good Hindus, whereas those who associate themselves with the political contours of Hindutva are casteist and bad Hindus. Leap of logic again, is it?

The recently passed law by the Seattle City Council banning caste discrimination also seems like a leap of logic. Nobody in their right mind can be against a law banning caste discrimination. But one has to examine the purpose of the law and whether there is a need for such a law. Where is the evidence of caste discrimination in the US? When a law banning discrimination has to be framed especially invoking the word caste, one would assume that caste discrimination in the US must have crossed all limits. Then, why can’t one recall even single incident of caste discrimination and abuse from the US that the media has reported over the past couple of years?

According to various Hindu organizations in the US like the Hindu American Foundation and COHNA (Coalition of Hindus of North America), the Hindu society in the US is not organized on the lines of caste. They say that the word caste and the way it’s being talked about in the context of discrimination is an utter shock to them. According to them, they worry about the repercussions of such a law on their kids who are completely oblivious to the caste discourse. Such a law brings their Hindu identity into the spotlight in a negative fashion. It makes them stand out and vulnerable to all kinds of discrimination and stereotyping.

The Seattle Anti-Caste Resolution is problematic because it presumes that Hindus are a bigoted lot and whichever place they go to, they take along the baggage of caste-based hierarchies with them. This not just demonizes the Hindus in the US but also opens up Pandora ’s Box of discrimination against the Hindu diaspora all over the world. It also ensures that Hindus traveling to the US on work visas would also be looked at with suspicion and vigorously monitored (just because they are Hindus). This would pretty much discourage companies in the US from hiring Hindu staff.

Now let’s take a look at the so-called evidence on the basis of which this bigoted law was passed by the Seattle City Council. It is a report titled ‘Caste in the United States’ put together by Equality Labs which calls itself a champion of Dalit rights. When you visit its website, you can see its only targets are Hindus and Hinduism. If you click on the report ‘Caste in the United States’, there is a section called ‘What is Caste’ that explicitly defines caste as the Hindu classification of ‘Brahmin’, ‘Kshatriya’, ‘Vaishya’ and ‘Shudra. It further says that ‘Wherever South Asians Go, they Take Caste with Them’.

‘Caste is not limited to the Subcontinent, caste has been found where ever South Asian migrants go. In the United States, many caste-oppressed migrant communities who come from caste and religious backgrounds impacted by caste discrimination are finding that caste has replicated itself in South Asian community, religious, and business institutions. This has led to many shocking experiences of caste discrimination in the united states that includes physical assault, verbal slurs, and discrimination in schools, businesses, and work places’, it says.

Now let’s take a look at the so-called evidence this report gives us. All we get are statistics giving the percentage of Dalits who reported caste-based discrimination in various forms. Some of these categories of discrimination are too loosely defined and subjective for example, ‘Two out of three Dalits reported being treated unfairly at the work place’, ‘60 percent of Dalits report experiencing Caste-based derogatory jokes or comments’, ‘over 40 percent of Dalit respondents have reported being rejected in a Romantic Relationship on the basis of caste’, One in Two of all Dalit respondents and One in Four of All Shudra respondents live in fear of their caste being outed’.

To any sane mind, some of these categories would seem outrightly fabricated. Take the whole thing about discrimination in romantic relationships. It doesn’t make sense. Aren’t romantic relationships supposed to be about choice? By that logic, every 3rd person would have some grievance against some other person rejecting them on the basis of their looks, social status, economic status, etc. Then, ‘the fear of their caste being ousted’ is subjective to the extent of being abstract. How do you measure such a fear? Anyone can say anything out of their subjective biases and prejudice but does that amount to evidence of caste discrimination?

A cursory look at these so-called categories of caste discrimination by Equality Labs is enough to understand that Hindus in the United States are being unjustly framed and targeted using the weapon of caste.

Also, Equality Labs is funded by the Open Society Foundation of George Soros who has been a lot in the news lately for his sustained propaganda machinery to demonize the Indian political system and Indians.

Hindus are a minority in the US. Isn’t it a paradox that when there is so much talk of minority rights and all that, the Hindu minority in the US is being viciously targeted and demonized?

Seattle is the first city to pass such a law but similar resolutions are reportedly in the process of getting tabled in many other states of the US. If such a catastrophe happens, it would be a collective demonization of the Hindu diaspora in the US.

I think the Indian government should take this up diplomatically with the US government to stop this blatant demonization of the American Hindu community using caste as a weapon.

About the author: Rati Agnihotri

Rati Agnihotri is an independent journalist and writer currently based in Dehradun (Uttarakhand). Rati has extensive experience in broadcast journalism having worked as a Correspondent for Xinhua Media for 8 years. She was based at their New Delhi bureau. She has also worked across radio and digital media and was a Fellow with Radio Deutsche Welle in Bonn. 

She is now based in Dehradun and pursuing independent work regularly contributing news analysis videos to a nationalist news portal (India Speaks Daily) with a considerable youtube presence. 

Rati has completed a MA (International Journalism) from the University of Leeds, U.K., and a BA (Hons) in English Literature from Miranda House, Delhi University. 

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