America’s most populous State moves a step closer to becoming the first state to outlaw caste-based bias
America’s most populous state California has moved one step closer to banning caste discrimination with the state Senate passing a bill Thursday to update California’s civil rights law to explicitly include protections against such discrimination.
The first such effort by a US state legislature, would give people legal recourse to address claims of caste bias and discrimination in housing, employment, education and other arenas. It was approved 34-1.
Read: California caste bias bill clears Senate panel (April 27, 2023)
The bill now moves to the California State Assembly for consideration.
Democratic state Sen Aisha Wahab introduced a bill on March 22 to protect against caste discrimination in the state Senate saying caste was an issue of concern for constituents in her district, which includes parts of the East Bay and Silicon Valley.
Earlier this year, Seattle became the first US city to add caste protections to its anti-discrimination laws with a bill moved by Indian American city councillor Kshama Sawant.
Several colleges and universities have taken similar actions. California Democratic Party, the Alphabet Workers Union, tech giants like Apple and Cisco are among others have also adopted resolutions against caste bias.
Read: California considers ban on caste discrimination (March 23, 2023)
Though Wahab is Afghan American, she said that she witnessed the toll caste took on other families growing up in Fremont.
“Caste discrimination poses a threat to California industries from agriculture to health care and technology, although it may not be obvious,” Wahab said on the state Senate floor ahead of Thursday’s vote.
The California bill has faced opposition from some Hindu groups, including the Hindu American Foundation, who argue that the bill singles out Indian Americans and Hindus and would open them up to racial profiling, harassment and bullying.
But Wahab insisted that her bill does not target any one community or religion, and would merely clarify existing protections for caste-oppressed people.
Read: Seattle becomes first US city to ban caste discrimination (February 22, 2023)
“The nation rallied in 2020 to address the systemic inequalities that continue to perpetuate discrimination against Black community members,” she said Thursday. “There’s similar reckoning to destroy the wheel of power and privilege perpetuated by caste systems.”
A coalition of groups across faiths and caste backgrounds also supported the bill.
“This is a win rooted in years of Dalit feminist organizing, and we are just getting started in making the state safe for our entire caste-oppressed community,” Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of the Dalit advocacy organization Equality Labs, said in a statement.
“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!”
Read: California Senate passes a bill to ban caste discrimination. It could become the first state to enact such a law (May 12, 2023)
Welcoming the passage of the bill by the California State Senate, Sawant said, “Following our historic victory in Seattle in February, the California Senate has voted in favor of banning caste discrimination.”
“The bill now goes to the Assembly. Anti-caste activists, working people, union members, and my socialist Council office built a fighting movement to win in Seattle, creating national and even international momentum. Solidarity to all fighting oppression under capitalism!” she said.