Two professors sue the California State University to prevent it from enforcing an anti-discrimination measure targeting caste

Early this year, the California State University System, the largest public university in the country with 23 campuses, almost half a million students, and over 50,000 faculty, proudly became the first to ban discrimination on the basis of caste.  Now that anti-discrimination policy is the subject of a lawsuit, claiming that it discriminates against students and staff who are Indian and/or Hindu.

The anti–caste discrimination measure was hailed at first.  NBC News reported:

California State University has become the first university system in the country to add caste to its anti-discrimination policy. On the system's 23 campuses across California, caste-oppressed students will now be able to report anti-Dalit bias, which students say they regularly experience at school. 

Dalit is a reclaimed term for those born into scheduled castes, the most socially and economically oppressed in South Asia's stratified caste hierarchy. Though the caste system was abolished in India, its influence still pervades South Asia and diaspora communities. (snip)

Twenty-five percent of Dalits in the U.S. say they frequently face verbal and physical assaults because of their caste, according to research by Equality Labs, an organization dedicated to ending white supremacy and casteism.

But not everyone at Cal State was enthusiastic, as DW.com reported in February:

More than 500 faculty members publicly supported the policy, while at least 80 said they opposed it, claiming that the policy could perpetuate discrimination against South Asian students.

"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," a statement issued by the Hindu American Foundation said. 

The statement also called for "the removal of the discriminatory insertion of 'caste' as an additional category," and said it would reinforce "deeply entrenched, false stereotypes about Indians, Hindus, and caste."

Now two professors have filed suit:

Professors Sunil Kumar of Cal State San Diego and Praveen Sinha of Cal State Long Beach both consider the move unconstitutional as they claimed it would only bolster discrimination against the school's Hindu and South Asian populations. (snip)

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), which is aiding the professors' legal representation, said the university is misrepresenting the caste system as a tenet of Hindu belief.

HAF Executive Director Suhag Shukla and Managing Director Samir Kalra claim the policy is "unconstitutional" because it reportedly violates the First Amendment's Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses as well as the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

Kumar and Sinha filed their complaint at a California federal court to stop the university from enforcing the updated policy.

I confess that I have no idea how this will turn out, or how it should.  Caste, on the surface, seems inherently discriminatory.  Its formal abolition in India speaks volumes, and on the surface should indicate that it has no place in America.  Yet we also guarantee freedom of religion and certainly don't want Hindus — or anyone else — persecuted for their beliefs.

I'll be interested to see how the arguments in this lawsuit are fleshed out.

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