An anti-caste discrimination bill has been passed by the California State Assembly on Monday (28) that seeks to combat caste discrimination and strengthen protections for marginalised communities across the state.
It now heads to Governor Gavin Newsom for his signature to make it into law, making California the first US state to add caste as a protected category in its anti-discrimination laws.
The bill passed by the California Assembly seeks to combat caste discrimination and strengthen protections for marginalised communities across the state.
It was first introduced by state Senator Aisha Wahab and was supported by several caste equity civil rights activists and organisations from across the country.
“Thank you to all the Assembly members who voted in support of SB 403. We are protecting people from a long-standing form of discrimination with SB 403,” Wahab said in a tweet.
Earlier this year, Seattle had become the first US city to outlaw caste discrimination, after its local council voted to add caste to the city’s anti-discrimination law
A coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA) described it as a ‘black day’ in California history.
The legislation will revise California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, Education, and Housing codes by adding caste as a protected category under “ancestry.”
Since its introduction earlier this year, the bill has flown through the different steps in the legislature, achieving a largely bipartisan consensus across multiple labour and civil rights entities.
“The Assembly vote is a win for the ages. After conducting over 700 advocacy meetings across the entire state of California the people have spoken resoundingly for caste equity protections. As a Californian who has endured caste my whole life I know the struggles and adversity caste-oppressed Californians have unjustly faced firsthand,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Equality Labs.
Caste-oppressed people have organised for over twenty years so we could have lives free from violent attacks and discrimination; now, the California Assembly has voted decisively to bring us closer to victory, she said.
In a statement, CoHNA said the passing of a bill that is not facially neutral and written to specifically target Hindu Americans is the latest in a long line of unjust bills, like the Asian Exclusion Act, which were popular at the time of their passing and were used to target minorities of colour.
“This bill will be no different and is indeed worse since it ignored the mounting body of evidence about the overreach of CRD in the Cisco lawsuit, the flawed data from a hate group that underpinned the whole effort, the championing of this bill by foreign actors and the rising numbers of Dalit and Bahujan voices speaking against it,” it said.
Amar Shergill, California Democratic Chair of the Progressive Caucus said there is broad consensus in California among Democrats and Republicans that discrimination, in any form, is unacceptable.
Pooja Ren, Hindus for Caste Equity said as a Dalit Hindu, she wants to make sure that they can make workplaces safe for all workers, as well as all schools for their children.
“Future Dalit generations in the diaspora must be protected. Pathways must be paved for our children to feel safe from casteist bullying and discrimination from casteist parents. We must have justice when caste discrimination occurs. We are a community that has suffered for centuries, and protection will give us the human rights as residents of California to live a life free from caste discrimination,” she said.