Monthly Archives: February 2021

Casteism in the US: Entrepreneurs and a new report on Indian American attitudes

19th February 2021

We continue to cover stories of the South Asian diaspora across the globe. And in America, there have been a couple of interesting articles that have come out over the last week.

As is well known, many US companies employ Indian immigrants to work in technology and, as has only recently been revealed, casteism seems to follow them. The statistics suggest that less than 2 per cent of the Indian immigrants that make up senior executives in the US are from ‘lower’ castes. At junior levels, when an employee’s caste is discovered, they may be ousted from social circles, have their work criticised where previously there were no complaints and have difficulty getting promoted. However, it seems that some have taken advantage of immigration to the US by setting themselves up as entrepreneurs, free from the hierarchy of ‘caste’, where there is the belief that business trumps all. Yet despite this, some who have reported on their success as an entrepreneur prefer not to be named, as even a surname can denote one’s caste and leave one open to criticism.

The other article of note discusses how significant the impact of Indian Americans is on government and policy. Making up the second-largest migrant population and just over 1% of the total population of the US, Vice-President Kamala Harris, whose mother is Indian, is probably the most high-profile example of Indian Americans holding a political position. Consequently, it has become increasingly important to gather information on the concerns and beliefs of South Asians.

The research was carried out by the Carnegie Endowment for National Peace, and covers a wide range of subjects. Interestingly, the issue of casteism was rated 7th most concerning in the list of top issues in India, behind Government Corruption, Economy, Religious Majoritarianism, Healthcare, China and Terrorism, but before Education, Income Inequality, Environment/Climate Change, and Sexism/Gender Discrimination. It was the first issue of concern for just 6% of Indian Americans, the second for 11% and third for 9%. The low figures perhaps reflect the proportion of so-called ‘higher’ caste members within the diaspora, to whom caste is of little relevance – as discrimination does not affect them – backed up by associating the figures for the level of support for Modi, the BJP and Hindu nationalism.

The report provides some very interesting information, but it also highlights that there is still a lot to do in terms of raising awareness of casteism amongst these US citizens.

Caste discrimination continues its journey – now within the Australian diaspora

11th February 2021

It was great news to hear that Australia, back in 2018, passed a motion to urge the government to take action on fighting caste-based discrimination. It requested that, amongst more international aims, the government considered interventions in inclusive recruitment practice and management practice in all business partners.

ABC National Radio recently broadcast a programme about caste-based discrimination amongst the South Asian diaspora in Australia. Disturbingly, there were many echoes of the forms that caste-based discrimination manifests here in the UK. As academic and filmmaker Vikrant Kishore says, ‘caste goes where South Asians go… Australia is no exception’. And while some South Asians in Australia take great pride in their ‘dominant’ caste – such as personalising their car license plates – others find the obsession with finding out people’s surnames (and thus their caste) deeply uncomfortable.

There are, of course, the typical stories that we’ve come to recognise throughout the diaspora, such as being evicted from rental apartments after their South Asian landlord found out the occupant was a Dalit, or refusing to let Dalits enter their house or eat food that they have touched. And much as with the dating app in the UK, an Australian dating app called Dil Mil allows filters to match within ‘dominant’ castes but has no options for ‘lower’ caste groups. Even in the big cities, casteist slurs can be heard.

Perhaps one of the saddest stories is that of a man from Cairns whose father-in-law passed away. They were unable to find a priest to conduct the last rites, and certainly not one that would enter the house. In the end they found someone from Adelaide who gave directions over the phone as to how to perform the ritual. Even in death, casteism shows a disturbing lack of humanity.

Yes, this was a damning report on the situation in Australia, but what should give us hope was that the documentary maker herself came from an upper middle-class Asian background and had come to the realisation that her privileged position had made her blind to the casteism that surrounded her.

Recently we at DSN-UK have been approached by and are talking to others in the UK, previously caste-blind, now making strides both to educate themselves and raise awareness. We look forward to the day when rather than denying that caste-based discrimination exists, ‘dominant’ castes accept that they have been lucky enough to avoid the suffering that Dalits have endured, accept their role in its persistence and start working towards its abolishment.

The Hindu American Foundation file against the County of Santa Clara in the Cisco case

2nd February 2021

There are some stark parallels with the actions of the Hindu American Foundation in the US and those of the Hindu lobby here in the UK, who argue that inclusion of caste as a discriminatory factor in the Equality Act 2010 is a ‘hate crime’ against Hindus!

So to hear that the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) has filed to intervene in the case is deeply disturbing and indicates a lack of willingness to even discuss that caste-based discrimination exists. In amongst the wording of the case brought against Cisco, the State argues that caste is ‘a strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy’. This would contravene the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of all Hindu Americans according to HAF’s Executive, Suhag Shukla, by attempting to define Hindu religious doctrine. The HAF has openly stated that they are anti-casteism, but their actions undermine the importance of the Cisco case by attempting to deflect the issue on to something else.

For those who are human rights activists, the decision by the State of California to sue tech giant Cisco for allowing caste-based discrimination to occur unchecked was a major breakthrough. It felt like there was finally some sign of responsibility taken by a government to tackle the issues of casteism imported by the South Asian diaspora, and that such behaviour would no longer go unnoticed. Most importantly of all, it was widely covered by a number of news outlets and raised awareness of the insidious nature of caste-based discrimination, and the ‘real life’ effects on individuals.

In effect, the HAF is accusing California of Hinduphobia. This, sadly, is a claim that activists have come up against repeatedly in the UK. During the Public Consultation on Caste-based Discrimination in the UK, the Hindu Forum repeatedly accused pro-legislation activists of trying to put blame on all Hindus and create a schism. It was erroneously claimed that DSN-UK was a Christian organisation (despite the fact that our Director was up for an award for Secularist of the Year) and that the concept of caste played no role in Hindu teachings. It is a moot point as to where casteism originated: the fact is that it is still taking place across the world, and our work is to end it, regardless of whether it affects or is perpetrated by Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs or Christians – or indeed those of no faith.

It is nigh on impossible to have an open discussion about casteism today – those who are anti-legislation are immediately on the defensive as soon as the subject is mentioned. The fact of the matter is that, like any discrimination, it is perpetrated by individuals; what is unacceptable is that certain institutions (whether cultural or religious) allow it to happen and then go on to paint the perpetrators as victims. Until both sides join forces to eliminate it as a cultural norm or legislation provides adequate protection for victims, progress will continue to be slow.