BUSTING THE LIES OF EQUALITY LABS
Since the summer of 2020, caste has been in the news, with the state of California suing CISCO for “caste discrimination.” The lawsuit was dismissed by the federal courts and subsequently refiled in a local court in Santa Clara, CA.
Without going into the merits of the individual allegations at play, it is essential to note that California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (CDFEH) relied almost exclusively on data from an organization called Equality Labs. In its lawsuit, CDFEH made wild and misleading claims about the role of caste in India and amongst South Asian immigrants to the US.
In this context, it becomes critical to understand more about this organization, the “data” they provide, their motivation, track record, and methodology.
Equality Labs – Grounded in Hate
Equality Labs is an activist group in the United States that often engages in actions to stereotype and target practicing Hindu Americans–Dalits, Bahujans, Banias and Brahmins, alike. The organization aggressively promotes hatred against Hindus using colonial casteist narratives, and has been called out by multiple activists for doing so.
(The Caste in Tech Witch-Hunt Explained | A Rebuttal to the Equality Labs Caste Report | State of California’s Rampant Hinduphobia)
Equality Labs claims to be an “Ambedkarite South Asian power-building organization” and “a political home for progressive South Asians”. They list membership from Dalits, Adivasis, Bahujan, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, and Christian South Asians. Missing conspicuously from this list are practicing Hindus-the indigenous people of South Asia.
With founders either born and brought up in America or belonging to non-Hindu faiths, the organization still professes to have expertise regarding India, South Asia and Hinduism. It creates dubious reports based on flawed data, furthering a false narrative about Hinduism and seeking to influence government bodies, policymakers, and corporations.
As an example of hateful stereotyping, Equality Labs hosted an event where ‘savarnas’, an undefined category of Hindus of varying upper and backward castes, numbering in the millions of people, were accused of being systematic rapists and abusers, simply due to their birth in a particular community. Even 2nd or 3rd generation Hindu Americans who lack any awareness of their caste, are accused of being complicit in the random crimes that may have been committed by people halfway across the world, simply because they share the same last name.
Understanding What Drives its Core Members
Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the founder of Equality Labs, promotes casteism and hatred towards practicing Hindus via social media and other channels. Hinduism, a minority faith in the US, is an old indigenous polytheistic faith, that is often misrepresented in western culture, especially when contrasted with the monotheistic religions that dominate the world.
On 7th Nov 2017, she was found to be provoking and harassing (archived footage can be viewed here) Dalit, Bahujan and other Hindu American children and parents gathered for a public hearing in the California Department of Education (CDE) in Sacramento. Ms. Soundararajan was also observed to be arguing with the CDE staff and security and disrupting the public process. For her actions, she was removed from the building by the security personnel and the police for one hour.
Equality Lab’s Political Director, Sharmin Hossain, originally from Bangladesh, has in the past publicly spoken of the need to demolish Hinduism itself, saying, “Arguing to salvage Hinduism is dominant caste rhetoric.”
Another tweet pasted below echoes her hate for Hinduism, this time calling for its “dismantling” under the Brahamanism moniker. The tweets have since been deleted, but the intent remains.
Ms. Hossain and others at Equality Labs have the liberty to hate Hinduism (or any other faith) and work towards ending it. They should not however, then be simultaneously seen as honest interpreters or representatives of practicing Hindu Americans who do value and practice their faith.
Ties to Radical Groups and Bigoted Individuals
Equality Labs allied with radical anti-Hindu groups and individuals to create the Anti-Dalit Caste Report in 2018. (Since the data on this Equality Labs page is often is often down, an archived copy of the report downloaded in August 2020 can be found here). Page 5 of the report mentions the groups and individuals that ‘helped to design, review, sharpen the analyses, and vet the conclusions made in this survey’. As one can quickly note, the list includes everyone except mainstream practicing Hindu Americans and any organizations that represent them.
The report mentions a large number of individuals and organizations as collaborators. Many of these are known to hold extremist views against Hinduism and India. It is no surprise that such a group working together has produced biased and inflammatory claims that can be seen consistently in this unscientific report.
A few are briefly described below.
Organization for Minorities in India (OFMI)
The Organization for Minorities in India (OFMI) has been involved in the separatist Khalistani terror movement in the US, supporting the secession of India’s Punjab state from the country. Bhajan Singh Bhinder and Pieter Friedrich are its key members.
Bhajan Singh Bhinder
Bhajan Singh Binder was the subject of an undercover United States Customs Service investigation for trying to purchase C-4 plastic explosives, M-16s, AK-47s, grenade and rocket launchers, and Stinger missiles in support of the Khalistan terrorist movement in India. Bhinder has also reportedly served as a spokesperson for Sikh Youth of America, a radical organization that glorifies Sikh terrorists and has alleged ties with the International Sikh Youth Federation, a US Department of State designated terrorist organization under E.O. 13224 (read the notice).
Pieter Friedrich, a.k.a. Pieter Singh, of OFMI, has a proven track record of hatred towards Hindu. He protested at multiple Indian and Hindu events, demeaning and verbally harassing both Hindu children and adults who were participating peacefully. He also promotes violence and hate against world leaders such as non-violence icon, Mahatma Gandhi, who has inspired civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Caesar Chavez.
Equality Labs collaborator Pieter Friedrich making a provocative speech in UC Davis at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi-which has now been vandalized.
Video is deleted now.
In this context, it is important to note that in January of 2021, this very same statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Davis was viciously destroyed-its head decapitated and cut off at the ankles. For the Indian community and all those who love peace and non-violence, this is the equivalent of someone smashing a statue of Martin Luther King-a man who had publicly talked about how Gandhi inspired his non-violent civil rights movement.
A few years ago, Friedrich himself was documented verbally harassing Hindu American children and their parents peacefully waiting in line to testify at the California State Board of Education.
He also testified several times at the California State Board Education between 2015-2017 denigrating the Hindu religion, Hindu American activism, and promoting the inclusion of negative stereotypes on Hinduism in California textbooks. There are many other occasions that Friedrich shows up to disrupt and heckle peaceful gatherings by Hindu Americans, hurling abuses and mocking their sacred symbols.
Kamala Visweswaran of SAFG
Prof. Kamala Visweswaran is a supporter of the Friends of South Asia (FOSA) and Friends of Inquilab (FOIL) (Read article), both radical Marxist organizations. It is well documented that FOIL and FOSA members have been involved in radical activities demonizing Hindus and Indians. (Report by HAF | Article on FOIL).
FOSA had hosted Ghulam Nabi Fai, a convicted felon, arrested for “conspiracy to defraud the US” by concealing money transfers from Pakistan’s notorious ISI spy agency to lobby in Washington (FBI Archives | Discussion Forum). In 2015-2016, Kamala Visweswaran attempted to block efforts by a broad coalition of Hindu community organizations, interfaith groups, academics, and elected officials to create a more equitable and accurate depiction of Hinduism and India in California textbooks. Her malicious intentions to disrupt the California textbook process were exposed by a federal court order which ruled that her non-academic emails to other Hinduphobic activist academics created a “smoke and mirror” and were not protected by academic freedom. (Here is the link of the article that has a court document for reference)
While all of these groups have a right to their political views, these same views put them well beyond the mainstream and threaten the well-being of the broader Hindu American diaspora. It also means the reports they produce are likely to be based and based on their ideological orientation.
Some of the key individuals and organizations called out out for their contributions to the report are interlinked as shown in the chart below.
Silencing Hindu Americans
The Equality Labs Caste Survey (Since the data on this Equality Labs page is often is often down, an archived copy of the report downloaded in August 2020 can be found here), quoted heavily in the California CISCO lawsuit, pointedly excludes Hindu Americans, who make up the largest group of South Asians living in the U.S. They tout membership from “Dalits, Adivasis, Bahujan, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, and Christian South Asians”. Practicing Hindus-the indigenous people of South Asia, are completely absent from this list. Yet this is the same group Equality Lab seeks to stereotype and impact the most (in a negative way) by lobbying Universities, Corporations and Government bodies.
Their survey, based on 1500 cherry-picked samples, is used as their 2018 caste report’s basis to attack the faith of about 3.3 million Hindu Americans and 1.2 billion Hindus worldwide. The group did not include the mainstream Hindu American organizations or mainstream Hindu temples in their survey, nor did it clarify the religious affiliations of those that it claimed had taken the survey. On the contrary the report makes blatant statements such as “We….. the 4.3 million South Asian Americans who live in the U.S” (page8) and “comprehensive survey”
Equality Labs seems to have deliberately excluded Hindu Americans from its respondents, even though this population represents the largest number of Dalits of South Asian origin in USA. As a result, its claims of the survey being a guide to South Asians or Indians in the U.S. stands exposed.
Harassing Hindu Children
Dalit and Bahujan Hindus represented the Indian American community during the California State Department of Education’s History textbook adoption process during 2014-2017. The original content on India was inaccurate and carried a colonial bias, leading to bullying and taunting of Indian American students in school. Several thousand Indian American Hindu children and adults, belonging to the spectrum of jatis and varnas, expressed their concerns to the Department. They sought a fair portrayal of Indian history and presented a plea to help minimize bullying and shaming. In many cases, the Hindu community was led by individuals who were themselves “lower caste”. Yet, the founders and allies of Equality Labs targeted the community including the Dalits and Bahujans (Read Article). Small children were also not spared.
(Indian American School children and parents across cast lines, gathered to urge the Department of Education for their Hinduism’s fair portrayal in light of bullying due to faith and racial taunting. Image edsource.org 2017)
In fact, the Equality Lab’s founder Thenmozhi Sounderrajan was occasionally observed to be arguing with the CDE staff and security and disrupting the public process. On 9th November 2017, she was removed from the Education Department’s building by the security personnel and the police for one hour.
Appropriating Dalit Identity
It is essential to understand that ‘Dalit’ status derives from being part of legally defined groups listed in the Indian Constitution as “Scheduled Castes” and “Scheduled Tribes”. This terminology is similar to the process of laying claim to Native American ancestry in the U.S. One cannot claim or assume Dalit identity based one’s own desires or sense of identity. Dalit scholars are already warning about the dangers of this trend, as the discussion around caste picks up pace in countries far beyond South Asia. Specially in the West, it is poorly understood, and is at risk of relying on “guidance” from self-assumed Dalit activists who have a political agenda of thier own, versus trying to improve the lives of disadvantaged castes.
It is important to note that the Indian American and Hindu diaspora, including Bahujans and Dalits, are represented by many mainstream Hindu religious, social, cultural, and state-of-origin based organizations with several thousand members each. Additionally, like other Hindus, they frequent the hundreds of large Hindu temples across the USA. Equality Labs reached out to none of these groups or temples for their survey.
In fact, the number of Dalits in the Hindu American community is in orders of magnitude larger than the proportion the number of people from Christian, Muslim or Sikh faiths that are claiming to be ‘Dalits.’ Many of these Hindu Dalit and Bahujan Hindus are fearful to speak out against groups such as Equality Labs for fear of being harassed or ostracized (Scheduled Tribes/Castes i.e., ‘Dalits’ in India, for instance, make up 23.1% of Hindus; Dalits and Bahujans together make up 75.9% of Hindus in India according to Government of India’s 2011 Census.
“I am not a culture vulture. I am a culture leech”
So wrote Jessica Krug, an American scholar of European and Jewish background in her Sep 3, 2020 blog as she confessed to her lying the Black identity throughout her adult life. “I have not only claimed these identities as my own when I had absolutely no right to do so — when doing so is the very epitome of violence, of thievery and appropriation, of the myriad ways…”.
Attempts to build the careers based on abuses and by hijacking the community identities are not new. With Equality Labs’ founders either born and brought up in America or of non-Hindu faiths, self-claiming the identity of underprivilege to target Hindu Americans including the Hindu American Dalits Bahujan is misleading.
Left, A screenshot of Jessica Krug pretending as ‘Black’, before the New York City Council via video link on June 9, 2020. Right, Wikimedia image of Thenmozhi Soundararajan, who self-identifies to be ‘Dalit’.
Promoting Hate vs Upliftment of Disadvantaged Communities
It is crucial to understand that for any individual or group to represent a community, they need to be a positive contributor to that community, appreciate the values it stands for, and most importantly be acknowledged by the said community as a leader. It cannot be a self-proclaimed position.
Equality Labs, its founder Ms. Thenmozhy Sounderrajan, and its collaborators such as Bhajan Singh Binder and Overseas Friends of Minorities in India, fail such basic tests. On the contrary, they are clearly recognizable for their overwhelming hatred towards the communities they purport to “lead” including Hindu Dalits and Bahujans and the broader Indian American diaspora.
Betraying Dalit History
Misappropriating Dr. Ambedkar and His Principles
Dr. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution and a Dalit intellectual, was an Indian patriot and one of the key leaders of modern India. He also explicitly recognized that hierarchy and discrimination were not inherent to Hindu scripture: “Particular attention has to be paid to the fact that this (the varna system) was essentially a class system, in which individuals, when qualified, could change their class, and therefore classes did change their personnel.” (Writings and Speeches, Vol. 1, P.18)
However Equality Labs has a track record of misappropriating this Indian icon. Here we have a group that is self-assuming an “Ambedkarite” identity, omitting the fact that the Dr. Ambedkar had explicitly stated that hierarchy and discrimination were not inherent to Hindu scripture. It rather chooses his out-of-context quote saying that “caste follows Hindus wherever they go”.
Further, contrary to Dr. Ambedkar’s assertions, Equality Labs’ report repeats the noxious and false trope about Hinduism– that the religion’s fundamental sacred texts codify discrimination. (page 9 of the Caste Report). Since the data on this Equality Labs page is often is often down, an archived copy of the report downloaded in August 2020 can be found here. “Caste is a codified exclusion that was established in Hindu scripture.” Thus the group did not even accurately reflect the icon they claim to be inspired by.
Depositioning Historic Dalit Icons
Despite claiming to be a pro-Dalit organization, Equality Labs did not want California school children to study the contributions of Dalit Hindu sages’ as part of World History.
It’s important to note that sage Valmiki was born in the hunter jati, and authored the Hindu epic Ramayana. Vyasa, another Hindu sage who was the son of a fisherwoman, and was the composer of Mahabharata. Together these epics are the most well-known and influential Hindu literature, revered by more than a billion Hindus worldwide. The influence they hold over day to day Hindu life is hard to overstate.
Surprisingly, it was Equality Labs that wanted to disassociate Dalits from the stupendous works these sages created. During the World History textbooks’ revision process in California, its founder Thenmozhi Soundararajan and her allies campaigned hard to remove all references to Hindu Dalit contributors. They allied with the group such as South Asian Faculty Group (SAFG) which in 2016 opposed the inclusion of ‘lower caste’ sages like Valmiki, Ravidasa, and Vyasa. Thankfully they failed, but it is a glaring example of their disregard for Dalit history.
A representative snapshot of many of the recommendations made by allies
of Equality Labs to the California Department of Education.
The theme was to remove Hinduism and ‘Dalit’ Hindu sages. In response, tens of thousands of Indian Americans including Dalits came together in opposition, and foiled these attempts.
Flawed Caste Report
Data from Equality Labs’ “survey” is used several times in the Cisco lawsuit. (Since the downloadable data on this Equality Labs page is often down, an archived copy of the report downloaded in August 2020 can be found here). Given its widespread use, one would expect the survey to be highly scientific, with professional sampling of audiences and at least a pretense of objectivity. There are however, several problems with the ‘study’ as laid out in this article here.
Sampling Bias And Misinterpretations
The quality and data of this report were challenged back in 2018 when it was first distributed. A detailed rebuttal can be read here. A few glaring issues to note:
While the survey claims to study “caste in the US,” it was open to participants from anywhere in the world.
Religion data of respondents who are reported as Dalits is kept out of the Equality Labs’ survey report, even though the survey calls out Hindu terms throughout.
Further, Equality Labs conducted its survey without sample randomization and without qualifying the ‘sample’. Responses were collected using an online self-administered platform, which makes the data likely to be biased in favor of the agenda pushed by the organization soliciting feedback.
The overt bias of the authors cannot but inform the survey methodology. If the survey is disseminated and then analyzed by the same people who call Hinduism an “evil, social construct” and something that “needs to be dismantled” then it is difficult to deny observer bias.
Strikingly, a breakdown of respondents by religion is not provided in spite of the survey asking about religious identity. So the religion of individuals reported as Dalit is not disclosed.
According to the authors, the survey questions were distributed through the authors’ and supporters’ platforms and networking channels. While there are known Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and anti-Hindu organizations, listed as participants, not a single Hindu organization is listed.
Misrepresenting Facts to draw Self-serving Conclusions
Conclusions in one section of the report based on selective facts fly in the face of claims made in other sections of the report.
In one instance, the survey would have us believe that the portion of the sample is larger than the whole. Details below:
“The combined claimed percentage of respondents is 25% per the report, who said they were threatened or physically attacked (‘key conclusion’ on page 28, the question 39 on page 48).”
Interestingly then, the Dalit respondents facing physical assaults, were represented to be 26% (page 27) which is larger then the whole. See image below. It’s also significant to note that only Dalit respondents answered affirmatively to this question (per page 27 chart).
With survey data contradicting itself, one can safely assume the inference to be flawed. Yet, Equality Labs highlighted this false claim in their report and widely promoted it in mainstream media platforms as well.
This is one of many examples of the report misrepresenting facts and manipulating data to promote a political agenda and demonize Hindus and Hinduism. It also showcases how baseless conclusions that are not supported by the data, can still lead to widespread media propaganda.
False and Contradictory Claims
There are many other instances in Equality Labs’ 2018 Caste Report that do not withstand scrutiny. For example, in the section about ‘Kala Pani’ (page 10), there are claims that Brahmins did not immigrate as they were bound by their Hindu religious belief that crossing the ocean results in immediate and irrevocable loss of one’s caste. Yet, their own survey finds that Brahmins are the highest percentage of ‘caste’ that have traveled overseas (page 14, page 33). The authors conveniently ignore this dichotomy.
In yet another example, their report claims that other religions like Sikhism were created to challenge caste hegemony (page 9). Yet, the survey itself includes the caste for all religions, including Sikhs’ and Muslims’. It is also interesting to note that the report does not provide religion-wise data and has excluded the mainstream Hindu population. Nonetheless, the report draws sweeping and baseless conclusions solely about caste and Hinduism.
A track record of fake data
The falsification and manipulation of data in the caste survey is part of a larger pattern by Equality Labs. For instance, on Sept 11, 2020, Equality Labs made a mass appeal to its supporters outside the country to use the 95134 as a zip code while filling out one of its petitions to influence technology company policies in the U.S. The suggested zip code (95134) is the San Jose Silicon Valley location where Cisco is located, and Equality Labs had no qualms in publicly asking international respondents, who should have no bearing or input on the policies of U.S. based companies asking for fake data to secure it’s desired results.
“We need your help reaching 10,000 signatures on our petition, supported by Color of Change. If you are outside of the United States, use 95134 as your zip code.” Here is the link to their newsletter email archive.
Preying on Caste For Individual Gains
Equality Labs has been desperately attempting to present caste as a big problem in the US and position itself as the solution to fix the “caste issues” in corporate setups. Hindu Americans who are primarily people of color, and who have achieved economic success, despite being first-generation minority immigrants, are very vulnerable to this framing. This targeting should be of concern amidst the general tide of rising hate against the wider Asian American community in the US.
Thenmozhi Soudnerrajan has been increasingly targeting cash-rich technology companies. This focus is worth investigating, especially since some Dalit scholars have already sounded the alarm about this.
Many Dalit scholars are warning of the dangers “equality type” NGOs circling like vultures to make millions from the corporate sector-once they succeed in establishing caste as a social justice issue to be fixed.
Suspicion of the motivations of groups like Equality Labs from a Harvard scholar and Dalit activist (tweet link here)
The intention is to force public institutions and private corporations into instituting policies that discriminate against specific groups. If it happens, it would be a gateway under the garb of Dalit and Bahujan welfare, to exploit corporations and to fill the pockets of the same questionable NGOs with millions of dollars.
Driven by folks like Equality Labs, the conversation around caste is increasingly stereotyping and targeting one specific immigrant community, ignoring the barriers they have overcome as a small minority faith and people of color.
Jibes from Sunrerrajan in Vice article, one of more than 90 articles where Equality Labs is mentioned and corporates are accused.
The campaign started by Equality Labs to pressurize the institutions and corporations (petition link here).
Equality Labs continuously looks for opportunities to promote hate against Hindus and India -using run of the mill speech and activities from business interactions.
The Evangelical Connection
For the past 300 years, missionaries and evangelical groups have sought to smear Hinduism and India through real or manufactured stories around caste, in an ongoing attempt to rase funds and drive conversions. In 2006, an Evangelist Christian group operating out of a church in Colorado, claimed to be Dalit and attempted to change the Hindu history being taught in California’s textbooks. This group called themselves as Dalit Freedom Network during the textbook adoption with the California Department of Education (CDE). After their colonial propaganda was discovered (documents link here) via a civic lawsuit that Hindu parents eventually filed, they changed their name to Divine Freedom Network.
A similar evangelical agenda seems to be in play now, under the name of equality, this time with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (CDFEH) in place of CDE. Additionally, this time, the colonial narrative is also targeting the Indian Americans in the corporate sector. Equality Labs, while claiming itself to be a voice of Dalits, is attempting to demonize Hinduism and its followers of across communities, through its caste report, the tactics used by colonial rulers and missionaries for more than two centuries.(From Equality Labs Aug 12, 2020 tweet)
Demonizing Hindu Festivals
Celebrated in Spring, Holi is a very auspicious season for Hindus all over the world. Holi is primarily a rural, agrarian and tribal festival. Depending on the geographical region there might be some small variation in the way it is celebrated but it always includes a ritual called Holika Dahan, which resembles the bonfire traditions seen globally in other indigenous cultures. In Holi it is a community affair, celebrating the power of devotion that resulted in the victory of good over evil.
The recent neo-colonist claims of Equality Labs that Holi is an anti-Dalit festival, hinges on the claim that Holika, the princess who died while trying to kill her nephew, at the request of her brother (and the boy’s father) was a Dalit woman. India’s history is replete with stories of different jatis who rose to become rulers-so it is plausible for Equality Labs to claim the tyrannical King Hiranyakashipu was actually a Dalit. However, the absurdity of declaring casteism in a conflict between closely related family members is never explained.
The article is full of other anti Hindu tropes and false assertions, designed to arouse shock and disgust from readers at the purported practices of Hindus and to color their minds against the joyous celebration they see evident before them. The reference to the throwing of “semen filled balloons” is one such. Based on a single allegation made by one student in Delhi in 2018-which was proven false after a police report and forensic investigation, in 2018 itself. Yet this article published two years after the falsehood was proved, continues to list them as “facts”. The continuous and casual repetition of fake but repulsive anti- Hindu allegations seem to follow the pattern of “blood libel” stories that were similarly used to generate hate and revulsion against the Jewish community in Europe.
Equality Labs’ Holi article: Why do we say no to Holi After being live for more than one year, this hateful article was deleted by Equality Labs in an attempt to hide the blatant Hindu hate they have been propagating. However an archived version can be found here.
Rebuttal: Holi – Let the Subaltern Speak