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Exclusive: Santa Clara County Human Rights Commission to hold hearing on caste

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Human Rights Commission Hearing Santa Clara County

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (Diya TV) — The Santa Clara County Human Rights Commission will hold a public hearing on whether caste should be listed as a separate factor in their discrimination policy on Thursday, April 29, 2021. At least 200,000 South Asian residents live in the county that features some of the most prominent technology companies in the world. Following the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit against San Jose based Cisco Systems, the Cal State University Student Association’s resolution on caste discrimination, and similar efforts at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and the Claremont Colleges, the county represents the latest California institution motivated by a 2018 report authored by activist group Equality Labs. 

Santa Clara Human Rights Commission Chair and San Jose Westminster Presbyterian Church Pastor Reverend Dr. Bryan Franzen confirmed the commission has been in talks with multiple organizations about caste, including Equality Labs. Following a November 2020 meeting with Equality Labs founder Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the commission unanimously approved establishing an ad hoc committee consisting of commissioners Robert Chaykin, Dylah Ray, Hyon Chu Yi-Baker, and Saigal Shanahwaz. 

While the official meeting agenda only mentions caste discrimination, a source familiar with committee deliberations disclosed part of the ad hoc committee’s efforts center on a proposed effort to collect caste demographic data called “Know Your Caste.” Such data collection would be consistent with formally defining caste as a protected category, as advocated by various Dalit, Ambedkarite, and other South Asian-focused progressive activist groups

Equality Labs has generated extensive coverage in the United StatesIndia, and even China. In addition, the group partnered with Indian American members of Congress Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) to commemorate Bhimrao Ambedkar, the late Dalit intellectual and chief architect of the Indian constitution, and discuss caste discrimination in Congress. Despite support and financial backing from progressive organizations, perceptions within the South Asian and Hindu communities vary widely. 

“Equality Labs has prominently and even proudly displayed a track record of anti-Hindu bigotry. It repeatedly says that Hinduism is not a safe space for Dalits, when the fact is, Equality Labs is not a safe space for Hindus, let alone Hindu Dalits and Bahujans,” stated the Ambedkar-Phule Network of American Dalits and Bahujans in a letter sent to the Santa Clara HRC. 

Apart from the group’s ideology, the report methodology itself has raised eyebrows, including the elimination of about 20% of responses for being “extreme or illogical,” lack of statistical testing, and reliance on self-disclosed (and not verified) caste affiliation – all disclosed by Equality Labs in the report appendix.  

The reliance of American government entities on activist group findings does differ greatly from the British government’s approach. When considering similar legislation on caste, the government commissioned their own report that concluded, “uncovering the extent of caste discrimination in the UK would require a representative survey…something particularly challenging given the lack of pre-existing British population data segmented by caste.” 

Some Hindus also question the fairness of public proceedings based on prior experience. “I was shocked by the clear anti-Hindu and xenophobic agenda,” said an American Hindu that attended the Cal Poly Student Association’s public hearing on caste discrimination. Members of the public had just thirty seconds each to speak to respond to the unanimously passed resolution stated to be “in compliance with the recommendations of Equality Labs.” “As a California taxpayer, I am appalled by the complete lack of ethics that the CSU committee showed in not consulting objective parties from both camps or consulting the public before making their decision.

At the same time, the Hindu American Foundation and other South Asian groups also publicly condemned casteism, whether in diaspora or origin countries. “Nobody should face workplace discrimination based on South Asian caste,” said Guha Krishnamurthi, Assistant Professor at the South Texas College of Law. “Drafting the legislation appropriately can be difficult…the [SC] Human Rights Commission and other deliberative bodies are there to help do that. To that end, we should support such deliberative bodies.” 

The prospect of such policies in the United States has stoked concerns “the addition of ‘caste’ as a specific protected category, however, would single out and wrongly target only one community.” In a letter to the Santa Clara Human Rights Commission, the Hindu American Foundation said “[Hindu] employees fear accusations in the midst of general ignorance about Hinduism, widespread stereotypes and misinformation about caste in India, and the lack of cultural context of HR professionals, are endangering their jobs and impacting their mental well-being.”

The Santa Clara County Human Rights Commission hearing will be held virtually at 5:30 PM PST on 4/29 and is open to members of the public. You can watch it live here:

EDITOR’S NOTE: No decision was made during this marathon session and there will likely be additional public forums to discuss this topic in the near future.

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Indian Americans jump into congressional races

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Indian Americans jump into congressional races | Diya TV News

WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — The latest numbers show more Indian Americans than ever are running for Congress. In the last six years, nearly 80 candidates made it on the ballot, soaring far beyond numbers seen in past elections. Leading the wave are successful candidates from California, like Kamala Harris, who rose from a Senate seat to become vice president. Helping those numbers, Indians Americans are also one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the country.  

Nisha Ramachandran is the new Executive Director of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the first Indian American to serve in this role.  Ramachandran most recently managed her own consulting business focused on AAPI advocacy. She’ll be working closely with Congresswoman Judy Chu who chairs the group to further Asian American causes and initiatives. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the people of Telangana after the Kakatiya Rudreshwara Ramappa Temple was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The PM also urged citizens to visit the temple which was built during the rule of the Kakatiya dynasty.

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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Blinken begins India visit, Afghanistan top issue

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Blinken begins India visit, Afghanistan top issue | Diya TV News

NEW DELHI (Diya TV) — US secretary of state Antony Blinken begins his two-day India visit on Tuesday hoping to engage the nation on issues such as the Covid-19 response, human rights, and democracy. The American troop pullout in Afghanistan will also be a key issue. India is concerned about the implications of the withdrawal and the need for sustained pressure on Pakistan over issues like terror financing.

And India’s first medal at the Tokyo Olympics goes to Mirabai Chanu. She won silver in Women’s weight lifting. Chanu’s Olympic preparations were hindered by injuries and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic but she still beat the odds and is being praised back home.

Tesla may open a factory in India. But CEO Elon Musk says only if the cars receive a good response in that marketplace. The company has already been hiring talent in the country. But Musk also hinted at some downsides to opening overseas, citing India’s import duty tax is the highest in the world for a large country.

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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Shrina Kurani announces CA congressional campaign

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Shrina Kurani announces CA congressional campaign | Diya TV News

SACRAMENTO (Diya TV) — Indian American Democrat Shrina Kurani is running for Congress in California’s 42nd district and is preparing to take on 15-year Republican incumbent Ken Calvert. Kurani is a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur and says she’s running to create more sustainable jobs in her community and to take on the status quo in Washington DC.

More than 30 interfaith organizations in the U.S. are urging the State Department to sanction India and designate it as a country of “particular concern”. Their resolution claims that the Indian government is promoting policies that lead to the persecution of religious minorities, especially Muslims.
Despite growing concern over rising Covid-19 cases in Japan, the 2021 Tokyo Olympic opening ceremony got underway. India is sending its largest ever contingent to the Olympics with120 athletes competing across 85 events.  The country hopes to win medals for shooting, wrestling, boxing, archery and badminton.

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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