By Allan Wall, July 2, 2020
Labor discrimination has been an ongoing issue in recent decades in our country. We even have a federal bureaucracy – the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – to make sure private companies don’t discriminate on the basis of (according to the EEOC website) “the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”
And, “It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.”
Did you follow all that?
Well, get ready to add another discrimination category, one not currently recognized by U.S. labor law – the Hindu caste system.
The Hindu caste system is an ancient system in India, related to the Hindu religion and the history of India, which divided the population into tens of thousands of social groups called castes. The castes determined one’s social status, neighborhood, profession, and choice of a marriage partner.
At the top of the caste system in old India were the Brahmins, the priests and intellectuals. At the bottom of the totem pole were the Dalits, or “untouchables”.
For a simplified chart of the caste system, click here.
In 1950, the caste system was prohibited by the Indian Constitution. But abolishing a millenary social arrangement is easier said than done.
According to Indian journalist Rajat Ghai, most Indian Prime Ministers have been from upper castes and from northern India (current Prime Minister Narendra Modi being an exception).
B.R. Ambedkar, the father of India’s constitution and himself a Dalit, was so opposed to the caste system that he converted to Buddhism. Back in 1916, Ambedkar wrote that “if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem.”
Well, it’s happening.
On June 30, Reuters reported that California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing is suing Silicon Valley tech company Cisco Systems Inc. for “discriminating against an Indian-American employee and allowing him to be harassed by two managers because he was from a lower Indian caste than them.”
The two engineering managers (no longer with the company) are accused “of harassment for internally enforcing the caste hierarchy.” The alleged victim of harassment, you see, was a Dalit (untouchable).
The Reuters article reports that, “like other large Silicon Valley employers, Cisco’s workforce includes thousands of Indian immigrants, most of whom were born Brahmins or other high castes.”
So most Indians working in the U.S. high tech industry are from upper castes, but there are Dalits working in the U.S. also. They were the subjects of a 2018 survey in which 67% reporting feeling they were “treated unfairly” and a quarter reported physical assaults.
The Cisco case claims that in 2016 one of the two then-managers “outed” the victim as a Dalit to company colleagues. This victim reported the manager to Cisco Human Resources and the manager is accused of retaliating, “but Cisco determined caste discrimination was not illegal.”
Well, technically it’s not, as the Hindu caste system is not (or wasn’t until recently) a part of our business culture.
Subsequently, “Cisco reassigned and isolated the employee, rejected a raise and opportunities that would have led to one and denied two promotions, according to the lawsuit.”
Was all this related to the caste issue? That information may come out in the case.
As the article reports, “U.S. employment law does not specifically bar caste-based discrimination.” So on what grounds is the government agency suing?
Well, the suit takes the argument “that the Hindu faith’s lingering caste system is based on protected classes such as religion.”
So they’re making it a religious freedom argument even though the managers and the victim are of the same religion?
Some lawyers could have fun with this. But what about America? We import immigrants who, rather than assimilate, introduce incompatible social customs.
As if we didn’t have enough division and conflict in our society, our immigration system is importing the Hindu caste system into our society.
Note: Photo of “untouchables” courtesy of Reach and Rescue Missions, India