California Assembly passes anti-caste discrimination bill


An anti-caste discrimination bill has been passed by the California State Assembly that seeks to combat caste discrimination and strengthen protections for marginalised communities across the state.

The bill was passed by the Assembly on Monday. 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 organizations from across the country.

“Thank you to all the Assembly members who voted in support of SB 403 today. We are protecting people from a long-standing form of discrimination with SB 403,” Wahab said in a tweet.

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.

“As the bill progresses we ask Governor Newsome to sign this bill once it crosses his desk so that California can lead the nation and the world to ensure that our institutions are free from discrimination and ensure opportunity for all,“ Soundararajan 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.

Tarina Mand, South Asian Bar Association Civil Rights Taskforce said California has taken a bold step to dismantle caste discrimination in a call for equity and a recognition that deep-seated biases can be passed through a community for generations and across continents.

“As our communities process some incredibly disheartening judicial decisions in recent months about the value of our diverse national spirit, the passage of SB-403 today stands out as a watershed moment,” he said.

Dalit activist Deelip Mhaske said amidst the shifting tides of the world, California’s adoption of the Caste Law stands as a groundbreaking testament, echoing far beyond its borders. “The resounding influence of the Indian diaspora reverberates through the corridors of power, with four Indians eyeing the presidential throne in 2024, and multinational giants swayed by the decisions of Indian diaspora leaders,” said Mhaske, president of the Foundation For Human Horizon.


Source: Press Trust of India

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