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‘Misguided’: Professors at US university want ‘caste’ removed from anti-discrimination policy

New Delhi: A decision by California State University (CSU), one of the largest universities in the US, to add caste to its list of protected categories has met with disapproval from Indian-origin professors at the institute. 

With the addition of ‘caste’ as a sub-category under ‘race or ethnicity’, any discrimination against a student, employee or member of the faculty based on their caste is an offence under CSU policy. 

In an open letter, more than 80 professors of Indian origin have called the move “a misguided overreach” and demanded that the Collective Bargaining Agreement  — a legal contract between the students’ union and the university — be approved “only after removal of the discriminatory insertion of ‘caste’ as an additional category”.

“We believe that this addition is a misguided overreach without any evidence for its need and that instead of curbing discrimination, it will cause more discrimination by unconstitutionally singling out and targeting Hindu faculty of Indian and South Asian descent,” they say, claiming that the move will “unfairly target a minority community for policing and disparate treatment”.

The letter claims that the California Faculty Association (CFA) had negotiated the change in the Collective Bargaining Agreement “without any understanding of the underlying issues”.

The California State Student Association (CSSA) had passed a resolution to add caste as a category to the CSU anti-discrimination policy in April 2021. The CSSA describes itself as “the single recognised voice” for more than 4.8 lakh students at the university. 

The California State University system is one of the largest in the US, with more than 23 campuses and eight off-campus centres. In all, the campuses have around 4.85 lakh students and more than 55,000 members of staff and faculty. 

Also read: ‘Dismantle Hindutva’ vs ‘understand Hinduphobia’: Battle of narratives now in foreign campuses

Professors claim inaccurate data, Equality Labs hits back 

In the letter, the professors claim that the study by Ambedkarite civil rights organisation Equality Labs — based on which the move to add caste was made — was “unscientific and biased”. They further claim that university representatives had not consulted them on the issue, although a meeting was held about it in May 2021.

Highlighting a study on the social realities of Indian Americans, conducted by the Carnegie Endowment with the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University in 2020, the professors add, “This scientific study not only negates all the flawed claims made by Equality Labs, but specifically dismisses the non-scientific and biased means by which Equality Labs gathered and analysed its purported data.”

The letter goes on to quote footnote 29 of the Carnegie Endowment report, which says, “This (Equality Labs) study relied on a nonrepresentative snowball sampling method to recruit respondents. Furthermore, respondents who did not disclose a caste identity were dropped from the data set. Therefore, it is likely that the sample does not fully represent the South Asian American population and could skew in favour of those who have strong views about caste.”

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a US-based collective, has also written a letter to the university’s trustees and vice-chancellor Joseph Castro.

The HAF website also quotes Dr Sunil Kumar, professor of engineering at San Diego State University, as saying. “This policy change has been made in the absence of any scientifically reliable evidence or data. Rather than redressing discrimination, it will actually cause discrimination by unconstitutionally singling out and targeting Hindu faculty of Indian and South Asian descent as members of a suspect class because of deeply entrenched, false stereotypes about Indians, Hindus, and caste. ” 

In a written response, Equality Labs founder Thenmozhi Soundararajan told ThePrint, “The Hindu American Foundation is known for its caste bigotry, disinformation, and attacks on caste oppressed people and their movements for equity. Their leadership is dominant-caste and often uses intimidatory tactics to peddle falsehoods and fear, and to bully caste oppressed people and their organisations.”

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: Swaminarayan Temple raid shows US has to reckon with caste discrimination imported from India

Source: The Print

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