SB 403 and Mental Health: A Mother Examines the Long-Term Stigma of Embedding Caste Into Law and Stereotyping of Young Indian Americans
Unveiling SB 403: Challenging Ignorance, Prejudice, and Rushed Legislation Impacting the South Asian Community, as One Indian Mother Raises Concerns for the American Self-Image
It is obvious that the current hot topic, SB 403, is written by someone with both ignorance and prejudice about the social and religious practices of the South Asian community, both in general and more specifically pertaining to Hindus. Yet authors of this bill have the audacity to not only present a bill that will affect the entire community and the state of California negatively but are determined to fast track it and get approved. Why fast track this legislation without even bothering to define caste?
The authors of SB 403 are well aware of how Islamophobia became systematically recognized in the mainstream after 9/11, in order to protect the entire Muslim community after public perception shifted due to the actions of a few. And yet lawmakers and activists have chosen to accuse and denounce the entire Hindu community of some extremely serious charges, and with potential for even more serious consequences because like every other community, in the Hindu community also there are few who are guilty of caste-based discrimination. It is important to note, however, that it has never been an issue broadly in the diaspora here in the US. So why is it being presented as a rampant phenomenon without any irrefutable proof whatsoever? Is it not irresponsible of lawmakers to scrutinize an entire community without solid, verifiable data
A recent article in the New York Times shows how a teenage boy, though not of Indian descent, was bullied by his peers who spread a rumor claiming he was a rapist; this harassment resulted in his death. At LSE, Hindu phobic allegations specifically led a young man to feel suicidal. Clearly, negative perception and harassment can have serious consequences. These are real possibilities if SB 403 passes. Yet somehow these lawmakers and supporters of SB 403 feel the need to rush this bill against severe opposition from the community. What is so compelling that warrants this legislation without adequate research?
SB 403, a bill that is based on an unscientific survey does not offer any proof of a relationship between the economic and occupational success of the so-called "upper class" being the result of the oppression of "perceived" lower caste members. Had lawmakers done their own unbiased research, they would have realized that there are many examples of "lower caste" aka "Dalit" members climbing the success ladder on their own competencies. This bill insults their talent and hard work.
No one is denying the occurrence of discrimination, and no one is supporting it either. But when lawmakers feel the need to rush legislation, the least they can do is assure the community as a whole will be safe – including both their lives and livelihood. Further, lawmakers are obligated to ensure that the community will get fair representation and to protect their right to justice. Instead, they choose to deny the community a right to religion based on false claims surrounding religious texts. Hindu scriptures are notoriously misinterpreted in the West, particularly around the issue of caste. Some of the supporters and sponsors of this bill are on record spreading misinformation about Hindu scriptures and talk about trauma of caste discrimination as their lived experience. They take this liberty as "self-proclaimed" oppressed Dalits, when the fact of the matter is that they grew up in affluent non-Dalit families.
Shouldn't that raise questions about the credibility of their intentions? Obviously, there is a lot more to this than what meets the eye. For example, some universities that added caste as protected category recently are already declaring "preference" to self-identified Dalits and Muslims (the author of the SB 403 bill also identifies as Muslim). Isn't this "preference" discriminatory as it denies the equal rights of other minoritized groups, including Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, protected under the 14th amendment?
This bill also expects that everyone be trained on this type of discrimination but does not give specifics about who should train who, nor how this training should be conducted. As it stands now, the group that "claims" the expertise in this matter is a biased supporter of this bill that does not allow the opposing point of view to be considered in order to maintain balance. So, is it really about caste discrimination or someone's financial interest?
Hopefully, lawmakers will realize how harmful this bill is for California and its residents and withdraw it.
Miller Center at Rutgers University: https://millercenter.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Hinduphobia-NC-Labs_6.22.22.pdf
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/06/09/social-realities-of-indian-americans-results-from-2020-indian-american-attitudes-survey-pub-84667