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New York, May 12 – The California state Senate passed by 34-1 vote a bill that would make discrimination on the basis of caste illegal in the state.
California would become the first state to protect caste if the state Assembly passes the bill and Governor Gavin Newsom signs it into law.
Introduced by Senator Aisha Wahab in March, SB 403 adds caste as a protected category to an existing law, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which provides that all people in the state of California are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments.
The development comes just weeks after the California Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed SB 403 in April.
It also follows the Seattle City Council’s historic legislation banning caste discrimination earlier this year. The resolution moved by Indian-American Kshama Sawant was approved by the Seattle City Council by six to one vote.
Wahab, the first Afghan American and Muslim elected to the California state senate, represents the 10th District — home to a diverse Asian population.
While introducing the Bill, she had said that caste-based prejudices exist in the US, and expanding the understanding of discrimination is necessary given the growing diversity in the country.
In California, caste discrimination occurs across industries, including technology, education, construction, restaurants, domestic work, and medicine, according to civil rights organisation Equality Labs, one of the proponents of the bill.
“On behalf of all Dalit Californians and caste-oppressed people around the world, we are ecstatic that the California Senate has passed SB403 off the Senate floor,” Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a Dalit activist and the founder of the caste equity organisation Equality Labs, wrote in a tweet.
“This is a win rooted in years of Dalit feminist organising, and we are just getting started in making the state safe for our entire caste-oppressed community. We know that we have a long journey ahead of us with this bill, but we have made history with this vote and are proud to look forward to working with the California Assembly on this historic bill!” Soundararajan
A lot of Hindu groups in the US have expressed strong opposition to SB 403, which would specifically add “caste” to California non-discrimination policy.
Many of them fear that codifying caste in public policy will further fuel instances of Hinduphobia in the US.
“SB 403 unfairly maligns, targets and racially profiles select communities on the basis of their national origin, ethnicity and ancestry for disparate treatment, thereby violating the very laws it seeks to amend, the Unruh Civil Rights Act. It further violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the US and California State Constitutions,” The Hindu American Foundation had said in a statement.