If passed, the legislation would make caste bias illegal in America’s most populous state
The California Senate is set to become the first US state legislature to consider a ban on caste-based discrimination with its Judiciary Committee clearing a bill introduced by an Afghan American lawmaker.
Introduced by State Senator Aisha Wahab, the first Muslim and Afghan American elected to the state legislature, last month, SB 403 adding caste as a protected category in the stateâ€™s anti-discrimination laws received the panelâ€™s unanimous nod Tuesday.
Read: California considers ban on caste discrimination (March 23, 2023)
As supporters and opponents chanted slogans for and against the bill outside the state capitol in Sacramento, the Judiciary Committee forwarded the legislation to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.
â€œWeâ€™ve hit a nerve and exposed a form of discrimination many never even knew existed,” Wahab said as she told the committee about death threats she received after introducing the legislation.
â€œCaste is an invisible shackle placed on people at birth. Those of us not raised in that system canâ€™t possibly understand what it does to oneâ€™s psyche, the inter-generational trauma it causes,â€ she said.
While Wahab insists that the bill ‘does not target any specific community or religion’ opponents have called the proposed legislation â€œunconstitutional” suggesting it would unfairly target Hindus and people of Indian descent.
Major Indian businesses and temples have issued a joint statement opposing the legislation proposing to make caste bias illegal in America’s most populous state.
The development comes weeks after Seattle became the first city outside South Asia to ban caste-based discrimination with a resolution sponsored by Indian-American Socialist city council member Kshama Sawant.
Read: Seattle becomes first US city to ban caste discriminationÂ (February 22, 2023)
Oakland, California-based Thenmozhi Soundararajan, founder and executive director of Equality Labs, a Dalit advocacy group, told the AP that â€œreceiving such overwhelming approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee is heartening.â€
Conservative Hindu organizations that unsuccessfully campaigned against the Seattle legislation, are also spearheading opposition to the California bill by rallying Indian Americans across the country.
Several organizations including HinduPACT (Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective), Hindu Mandir Executivesâ€™ Conference, Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), Asian American Store Owners Association (AASOA), and Hindu Business Network (HBN)condemned the bill for presenting â€œa convoluted and broad definition of caste.â€
Ajay Shah, convenor of HinduPACT called the â€œdeeply flawed, ill-intentioned and targets children and youth from the Indian subcontinent and those who follow the Hindu dharma (Hinduism).
â€œIf the bill passes, Hindu and Indian businesses will have to deal with politically and religiously motivated lawsuits,â€ said HBN Convener Nirav Patel.
Read: California senate panel passes bill to end caste bias (April 26, 2023)
Pushpita Prasad, a spokesperson for the Coalition of Hindus of North America told the Associated Press that even though the bill says it does not single out Hindus, its targeting of Hindus is implicit.
â€œWhen you look at the history textbooks in California, the word â€˜casteâ€™ is only mentioned in the chapter about Hinduism,â€ she said. â€œThose who know little about this subject associate caste with Hindus and Indians.â€