Opinion | Why Is Caste Inequality Still Legal in America?

Caste isn’t nicely understood in the United States, regardless that it performs a big position in the lives of Americans of South Asian descent. Two latest lawsuits make caste among the many South Asian diaspora rather more seen. They present that oppressed castes in the United States are doubly deprived — by caste and race. Making caste a protected class underneath federal regulation will enable for the popularity of this double drawback.

Caste is a descent-based construction of inequality. In South Asia, caste privilege has labored by way of the management of land, labor, training, media, white-collar professions and political establishments. While energy and standing are extra fluid in the intermediate rungs of the caste hierarchy, Dalits, the group as soon as generally known as “untouchables” who occupy its lowest rung, have skilled far much less social and financial mobility. To at the present time, they’re stigmatized as inferior and polluting, and sometimes segregated into hazardous, low-status types of labor.

The Indian authorities has many legal guidelines to fight caste prejudice and inequality. But makes an attempt to supply oppressed castes with safety and redress — by way of affirmative motion, for instance — are met with fierce opposition from privileged castes. The previous 20 years have additionally witnessed the rise of Dalit political actions and the emergence of a nascent center class that has benefited from affirmative motion. However, oppressed castes’ claims to dignity, well-being and rights are nonetheless routinely met with social ostracism, financial boycotts or bodily violence.

Caste continues to function in America, among the many South Asian diaspora, however in a really completely different authorized and financial context. Immigrants from India and different South Asian international locations started arriving in giant numbers after restrictive immigration insurance policies primarily based on inflexible racial hierarchies have been modified beginning in the second half of the 20th century. These reforms offered alternatives largely for privileged castes, like our personal households, who’ve used their historic benefits to grow to be an prosperous and professionally profitable racial minority in the United States.

Oppressed castes are a minority inside this minority, and so they proceed to be topic to types of caste discrimination and exploitation, as the 2 lawsuits clarify. Together, these instances present how caste operates inside America’s racially stratified work pressure to create largely hidden, but pernicious patterns of discrimination and exploitation. In each, the litigants are members of the oppressed caste Dalits.

One case is a discrimination go well with filed in June 2020 towards the know-how conglomerate Cisco Systems Inc. and two supervisors by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on behalf of a Dalit engineer. According to the lawsuit, Cisco didn’t adequately tackle caste discrimination by two privileged-caste supervisors. The Dalit engineer alleges that one of many supervisors “outed” him as a beneficiary of Indian affirmative motion. The lawsuit says that when he complained to the human assets division, each supervisors retaliated by denying him alternatives for development.

The plaintiff and one of many supervisors are graduates of the Indian Institutes of Technology, a set of elite public technical universities. When the Indian authorities prolonged caste-based affirmative motion to those faculties in 1973 and 2006, college students admitted by way of the quotas have been met with fierce opposition and stigmatized as unworthy of an elite training. The worry of publicity has pressured many Dalit college students in India to cross as non-Dalits.

The Cisco case seems to make clear the identical patterns of caste discrimination in the U.S. tech sector. By allegedly “outing” the Dalit engineer, the supervisor marked his caste and, in impact, deemed him unworthy of his place at Cisco. The firm has denied the allegations and stated that its investigation discovered no grounds to help claims of caste discrimination or retaliation.

The different case exhibits how stark variations of caste energy and standing could also be carried over from South Asia to America, a state of affairs that may result in labor exploitation. In May 2021, attorneys representing a bunch of Dalit staff filed a lawsuit towards the Hindu sect generally known as BAPS (Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha) and associated events. The staff allege that they have been delivered to the United States on visas designated for spiritual staff to assist construct a temple in New Jersey. They declare that they have been pressured to work for greater than 87 hours per week for $450 a month, or lower than $2 an hour. Furthermore, they stated they weren’t allowed to depart the temple property unaccompanied, have been continuously monitored and have been threatened with pay cuts, arrest and expulsion to India in the event that they spoke to outsiders. BAPS has denied the allegations.

If the fees are proved to be true, BAPS may have weaponized the American visa system to violate U.S. labor and immigration regulation and interact in caste exploitation. But the state of affairs is completely different in South Asia than it’s in the United States. In South Asia, there may be authorized recourse for oppressed-caste rights. In the United States, nonetheless, there may be little recourse. The lack of specific authorized safety for caste creates the circumstances of impunity for caste exploitation.

Making caste a protected class is a crucial step towards addressing the issue of caste in America. To shield oppressed castes in the United States, we’ve got to be prepared to insist that civil rights prolong to communities whose oppression remains to be hidden.

Paula Chakravartty is a professor of media and communication at New York University who has written extensively about race, migration and labor in the United States and India. Ajantha Subramanian is a professor of anthropology and South Asian research at Harvard University and has written extensively about caste and democracy in India.

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