IN MY LAST COLUMN, I covered the progress— and veto—of SB-403. This so-called anti-caste discrimination California Bill, moved by Democratic state senator, Aisha Wahab. Those who supported SB-403 cited the lawsuit filed by California Civil Rights Department (CRD) on behalf of “John Doe” against Sundar Iyer, Ramana Kompella, and their employer, Cisco Systems, an IT major located in Silicon Valley, California.
After dragging on for three years, the lawsuit was dismissed due to lack of evidence. The natural question that arises is who is John Doe? We only know him as the “self-identified” Dalit who was behind the lawsuit, and indirectly SB-403 too. But instead of asking who is John Doe, it might be more appropriate to ask who is Sundar Iyer. A large number of educated and concerned Indians are sure to want to know.
After the city of Seattle passed an anti-caste Bill, evidently it was the turn of California, more specifically Silicon Valley to target Hindus as perpetrators of the obnoxious caste system. With dubious and unsubstantiated claims passed off as “evidence” supplied by the for-profit Dalit rights organisation, Thenmozhi Soundararajan’s Equality Labs.
In fact, the more one researches the manner in which the Cisco anti-discrimination case against Sundar Iyer and his colleague Ramana Kompella was orchestrated, the more revolted and angry one feels. There is not only blatant disregard for truth and justice behind the US anti-caste movement, but unscrupulous deviousness, even profiteering perhaps. Bullying big corporations or universities into adopting anti-caste measures would keep self-appointed enforcers in business for a long time.
John Doe, now outed to be allegedly Iyer’s fellow IIT-ian and classmate, Chetan Narsude, had accused Iyer and Kompella of discriminating against him because he self-identifies as a Dalit. Actually, Doe never even applied for the position he accused Iyer of denying him. Iyer, in addition, paid Doe several million dollars to join his startup, for which Iyer gave up his own Cisco equity. In return, Iyer, who self-identifies as an atheist, was subject to the worst form of harassment for caste bigotry by CRD. Ironically, Iyer was the former champion of caste equality, having offered top leadership positions to other Dalits, including the head of engineering post which Doe claimed he was discriminated against for not getting.
In other words, Doe wasn’t appointed, but another Dalit was, to a post that Doe had not even applied for, not getting which Doe brought a lawsuit against Iyer-Kompella and Cisco. Kompella was accused of caste-based harassment because he asked Doe to file weekly work reports. When the lawsuit was thrown out, some of the “corrupt CRD actions” were exposed by crowdfunded action group, Caste Gate, in their “Hall of Shame”. These include ‘Hiding Material Evidence’, ‘Unethical Claims’, ‘Casteism’, ‘Xenophobia’, ‘Racial Profiling’, ‘Due Process Violations’, ‘Erasure of Dalit Identity’, ‘Frivolous and Racist Harassment Claims’, and ‘Intentional Material Fabrications’.
Last April, California Governor Gavin Newsom fired CRD’s lead prosecutor, who was also fighting the Cisco case. The Hindu American Foundation also sued CRD for violating the US constitution. In January 2023, Iyer filed to sanction CRD for bringing a false case against him. CRD withdrew its case against Iyer and Kompella, but is still suing Cisco.
That is why in answer to the question, who is Sundar Iyer, let us hear his own voice, especially this poignant appeal to BR Ambedkar himself:
“Dear Dr Ambedkar, I hadn’t realised that I would have to talk to you. I am deeply sorry; at Cisco, I first gave my top leadership position to a brilliant, hard-working, Dalit candidate. Why? Because he was the best person that I could hire.… But dear Dr Ambedkar, I thought you should know the truth that we’re not expected to prove our innocence in America. It is the job of the state to prove guilt. The CRD withdrew their case against Ramana and me without prejudice. In layman’s language, they agreed never to sue Ramana and me on this matter. However, earlier this year, our local Fremont Senator [Aisha] Wahab introduced SB-403 to prevent discrimination based on someone’s perceived caste. In her speech, she invoked the Cisco case and presumed my 50-plus co-workers guilty. Many of them are her own constituents. Like the CRD, she perceived us as an oppressor upper caste before our Fair Day in court.”
But Iyer, who got scapegoated, did not become the fall guy. He did not take the campaign against him lying down. He stood up and spoke out at great financial and personal costs to himself.
The more one researches the manner in which the Cisco anti-discrimination case against Sundar Iyer and his colleague Ramana Kompella was orchestrated, the more revolted and angry one feels
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However, the defeat of SB-403 was the work of the concerted efforts of several advocacy groups. It galvanised the conscience of Hindu Americans, who usually vote as Democrats and are politically passive. A large coalition of Hindu groups, including the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), CoHNA: Coalition of Hindus of North America, and Castefiles, rallied the community against the Bill. But what is not well known is the tremendous push from Dalit groups such as the Ambedkar Phule Network of American Dalits and Bahujans (APNADB) against the Bill. In their eloquent assertion of dissent, APNADB said: “This anti-Dalit bill SB-403 was about denying civil rights to us, the very Dalit and Bahujan people, by appropriating our marginalized identity. SB-403 was a weapon to butcher the cultural existence of us, the very Dalits and Bahujans…. Who is responsible? We continue to get targeted via cunning appropriation of our marginalized identity for such Bills that produce threats to the cultural and physical well-being of us, the marginalized.”
Not only heroes and villains, the movement against SB-403 also had a genuine martyr. Dalit rights activist, Milind Makwana, one of the founders of APNADB. While campaigning against the Bill on July 18, he suddenly suffered a heart attack in Cupertino, California. He had come to testify against the Bill in the City Council meeting. After his one-minute testimony, he collapsed. Despite best attempts to revive him, he passed away.
Makwana was a technical programme manager in a big Silicon Valley company. Soft-spoken and mild-mannered, he was well known as a Sewa International volunteer and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) activist. His last words are telling: “My name is Milind. I am a Cupertino School District taxpayer. I’m from a marginalised community and I am a proud Hindu. So, whoever is claiming here to represent us but ignoring Hindus is talking about us without us. So, what I would like to say is looks can be deceiving, just like having a disco ball on a Monday morning. When you look at the proposed resolution SB-403 and peel off the shiny exterior, you will find a costume party of hidden racial discrimination and Hinduphobia for Asian Indians. I urge the city council to vote no on SB-403….”
No wonder Governor Newsom’s veto of the Bill was seen as a major victory for Hindu advocacy in the US. As HAF’s Samir Kalra observed, “This is a victory for the civil rights of all Californians.” Founder and Policy Director of Castefiles, Richa Gautam, who was a vocal member of the campaign against the Bill, argued that “Real Hindu Americans did not like the divide of dominant caste and oppressed caste politics because that was simply not the lived experience of people in reality. Dalits who spoke out in media interviews were silenced and their stories not published.”
Many saw the Seattle city legislation as starting an anti-Hindu domino effect campaign. Its ringleaders are the usual caucus of anti-India Leftist Democrats, Islamists, Dalit, and Khalistani separatists, members of the Republican Christian
right, supported allegedly by Pakistan’s ISI, Soros’ foundations, and other anti-India powers. Hindus became propaganda targets, with quasi-coercive “caste-sensitisation” workshops organised on major American universities and Fortune 500 campuses. The effort was to make caste a protected category. In effect, to superimpose or smuggle a distorted version of the Indian quota and reservation system into the US. The Hindu-American pushback, on the other hand, was almost entirely a community movement, which is what makes it so significant. Some Hindu senators and Congressmen joined in later, after extensive lobbying efforts.
Stereotyping Hindu society along caste lines was meant to guilt-trip, divide and rule Hindus. Why? Evidently to suppress and control the most prosperous and well-educated minority in America. For those seeking to reform the deep entrenchment of the caste system in Indian politics, education, employment, social, personal, and public life have much to learn from the US Hindu coalitions. Once again, we are forced to concede, they are showing us the way.