As a grassroots organization of technology workers, we are writing to express the following concerns about Senate Bill 403, a bill that, in effect, codified “caste”, and will lead to unprecedented judicial abuse. We plead with you to ensure that SB403 does not codify into California law the horrific abuse by the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) of the two Cisco Indian American managers and victimization of their 50+ co-workers in the Cisco team. The following letter outlines each of our concerns and suggested safeguards to address those concerns.
1.CRD Overreach via Forced Assignment of Caste: In the Cisco case, the CRD assigned caste to the primary defendant, who had disavowed both religion and caste. The CRD also assigned upper-caste status to all the 50+ Cisco co-workers.
Add explicit safeguards in SB403 to prevent caste from ever being forcibly assigned on any defendant.
2. CRD Abuse of Process, Leading to Loss of Trust in Prosecutors: In the Cisco case, the CRD fabricated “facts”, lied about the chronology of the events referenced in the case, and hid critical material evidence from the judge (that the CRD sued Dr. Iyer, the main manager in the Cisco case, despite he having offered all of his three top leadership positions to another senior Dalit colleague, including the position that the CRD claims discrimination over for their Dalit plaintiff) , per public court records1. Indian American community has lost its faith in the fairness of CRD in litigating cases related to “caste”. Despite this, Senator Wahab wants to hand over caste litigation to the CRD.
Immediately strip the CRD of all authority on any such claims. Begin a formal investigation on the CRD.
3. Selective Enforcement via Codification of Oppressor vs Oppressed Castes: In the Cisco case, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the CRD arbitrarily (and falsely) manufactured an oppressor-oppressed narrative, labeled some employees as “upper” caste, accused them of setting up a “caste hierarchy” against a colleague, whom CRD labeled as a “lowest caste” Dalit. SB403 perpetuates this: it defines caste as a “perceived position in a system of social stratification”2, thus targeting those who are arbitrarily perceived as higher up in society, and codifies into law that some are oppressors, while others oppressed. This is unconstitutional.
By including the the word "perceived position" the bill further raises couple more constitutional concerns
(a) Since perceptions are diverse and even contradictory, there is inherent vagueness in the language of the bill about whose perception and what markers are useful to indicate reasonable standard of neutrality. We are concerned that vagueness will get intentionally weaponized3. Vague standards violate due process making South Asians communities uniquely vulnerable to miscarriage of justice.
(b) Based on the bill, the difference between an action being right or wrong could be the "perception" of an identity irrespective of any basis in reality. The bill thus forces the executive to violate the First amendment as it limits the free exercise of speech by criminalizing actions based on perception.
Remove all references to social stratification (ie. any social hierarchies or ranking) and "perceived position" in SB403.
4. Selective Enforcement Via State-Sponsored Scrutiny of Marriage in South Asian Community: SB403 defines caste as “socially enforced restrictions on marriage”. This means that South Asian American supervisors who want to marry their own kind (“endogamy”), will be held as more casteist, than other ethnic societies not associated with caste4. Such targeting of marriage in the South Asian community is eerily reminiscent of apartheid-era South Africa. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi (who was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s inspiration in the American Civil Rights fight) developed his model of nonviolent resistance in response to the South African criminalization of marriages in the Indian community.
Remove all references to “socially enforced restrictions on marriage”. Endogamy cannot be used as a marker for casteism.
5. Selective Enforcement Via State-Sponsored Scrutiny of Personal Habits of South Asians: SB403 defines caste as “social exclusion on the basis of perceived status.” Whom someone does or does not socialize with is a personal preference of an individual, and can not be legislated by the State of California. Any criminalization of the socialization preferences of an individual infringes upon the rights of the citizens to privacy, and must be beyond the scope of workplace anti-discrimination laws.
Remove all references to “social exclusion” from SB403.
6. Racial Targeting via Bigoted and Contradictory Definition of Caste to Shame Hindus and South Asians: California textbooks teach that caste is an essentially Hindu construct and Indians discriminate against “lower caste” people, shaming Hindu American students, most of whom have no connection with caste. SB403 was initially conceived and worded in a similarly bigoted fashion.
The legislature acknowledges the institutionalized bigotry in the California society against Hindus and addresses that in some manner in SB403.
7. Racial Targeting Rooted in False and Flawed Data: In the Cisco case, the Equality Labs survey (which has been widely criticized for being unscientific and is replete with methodological errors and biases), was used to target so-called “upper-caste” Indian Americans. Yet, it was used in the legislature, even after it was rejected as evidence by the Cisco judge, Drew Takaichi.
Have the California legislature disavow the Equality Labs survey to preserve the integrity of the political process.
Propose a bi-partisan study to understand the extent of caste discrimination; pause SB403 bill until the study is complete so that sanctity of State of California’s legislative process remains intact and hundreds of thousands of Indian Americans are not subjected to institutionalized bigotry through this highly flawed process.
Defending lawsuits in California can run into several thousands of dollars and lead to years of hardship on families facing such lawsuits. It can ruin reputations of innocent, defenseless people, as the Cisco case shows. For something as complex and as poorly defined as caste, litigating SB403 with its current definition, can easily require more than half a million dollars based on some estimates (excluding the need for experts on caste, etc.). This inequitable balance of judicial and financial burden on individuals and businesses that hire South Asians will force them to settle, in essence leading to a miscarriage of Justice. We plead with you to take our concerns into account and address these flaws before passing it.
California for Justice