Anti-caste discrimination bill passed in California Assembly
San Francisco, Aug 29 (IANS) In a move that would make caste bias illegal and strengthen social justice, the California State Assembly has passed the anti-caste discrimination bill with an overwhelming 50-3 margin.
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.
Approved on Monday, the bill now moves to Governor Gavin Newsom who will sign it into law, making California the first US state to add caste as a protected category in its anti-discrimination laws.
“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 on X.
Among Indian-Americans, lawmakers Jasmeet Bains and Ash Kalra supported the bill, which was introduced in the Senate just weeks after Seattle became the first city in the US to ban caste discrimination.
The Ambedkar Association of North America (AANA), a non-profit working towards underprivileged castes, called the development “landmark”, “historic” and “unprecedented”.
“This is what Educate, Agitate and Organize looks like,” AANA wrote on X.
“California is still a state that stands for civil rights,” Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Equality Labs, was cited as saying in The Sacramento Bee.
“I think the opponents lead with ‘caste doesn’t exist’ and then lead with political violence, and lead with insinuation and fear and bigotry. That won’t get you very far in California,” Soundararajan said, mentioning the death threats reported by activists and Senator Wahab.
A lot of Hindu groups in the US expressed strong opposition to SB 403, which they said would specifically add “caste” to California non-discrimination policy.
Many of them feared that codifying caste in public policy will further fuel instances of Hinduphobia in the US.
Calling the bill’s passing as a “black day for California history”, advocacy group Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), said that “casteism and Hinduphobic profiling won today”.
“The passing of a bill which is not facially neutral and written to specifically target Hindu Americans is the latest in a long line of unjust bills, which were popular at the time of their passing and were used to target minorities of colour,” CoHNA said on X on Monday.
“This bill will be no different and is indeed worse.”