Dubbing Hinduism a Way of Life Could Rob us of 1st Amendment Protection

A landmark first-of-a-kind conference Castecon 2023 was held in San Francisco and convened by Pandit Satish Sharma and Richa Gautam with the leadership and support of a grassroots team. This was the first such event where many important voices against the caste bill SB403, came on a common platform to raise their concerns about the false caste allegations on the Hindu American community. Castefiles will print a series of articles with key excerpts from the Castecon conference.

Jan 24, 2024 - 06:02
Dubbing Hinduism a Way of Life Could Rob us of 1st Amendment Protection

The United States government said at its very founding that, it has zero right to intervene in religion. That means that they cannot define a religion. They cannot make proclamations about what a religion is or isn't. What did the Civil Rights Department (CRD) of the Federal Government do in the CISCO case? They defined caste and caste oppression as integral to Hindu teachings and practices. 

So, at HAF, we first filed what's called a motion to intervene to say that while we were not a party to the CISCO case and we didn't know exactly what happened factually, how the CRD had filed this case denied not just the defendants in the CISCO case, but the rest of Indian Americans their fundamental civil rights.

Why we sued the Civil Rights Department
As the case started getting stuck in negotiations with the arbitration clause and other technicalities, we thought that, seeing what was happening in Seattle, and in Santa Clara County, we had to nip this in the bud. So, we just decided to sue the CRD directly. In January 2022, we sued the State directly for a violation of the Civil Rights of all Hindus and people of Indian origin in the State of California.

We also have pending legal action. We are meeting two lawyers at the Hindu American Foundation serving on the legal team representing two faculty members at Cal State University for the adoption of a caste policy there. Our argument remains the same – it’s a denial of equal protection, and in the specific case of Cal State University, also a legal concept called `void for vagueness' that they have not defined caste.

So, they created this deep ambiguity that is prone now to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.  We are already in the courts, and hopefully, the decisions that come down on any one of these three cases will support our fight against SB403, or at least be able to counter it after the fact.

Very often, I hear in our community that Hinduism is a way of life and not a religion. If we held on to that truth, we would not be able to file a 1st Amendment claim. Yes, Hinduism is a culture! Yes, it's a way of life! Yes, it's a religion! Otherwise, we are really riding ourselves out of the protection at least in the way that not just the US Civil Rights apparatus is set up but also internationally. Religious freedom is the very crux, and without it, we would basically be erasing ourselves from any sort of legal protection.

Suhag Shukla – Executive Director of the Hindu American Foundation 

Castecon Desk Hindu community leader in the UK, Pandit Satish K Sharma, and Indian American activist and researcher Richa Gautam joined hands with a group of community grassroots members for holding a landmark conference Castecon 2023 in San Francisco. The first event of its kind, Castecon 2023 brought together a number of important voices in the Indian American community against the Caste Bill SB403. The event went a long way in laying out the current and future challenges for the Indian American community, especially the weaponisation of a non-issue like caste. Castefiles will publish a series of articles culling insight from the speakers at Castecon 2023 with excerpts from speeches. The articles will hopefully lay the basis for the community's strategy to meet the challenges of the future.