California legislature passes landmark bill banning caste discrimination
California’s legislature has become the first in the United States to approve a bill that aims to ban caste discrimination.
His legislative action, hailed by supporters as a crucial step in safeguarding the rights of individuals of South Asian descent who allege unfair treatment, now awaits the decision of Governor Gavin Newsom on whether to sign it into law. This development follows Seattle’s groundbreaking decision to ban caste discrimination earlier this year.
Originating from a centuries-old system in India that divides Hindu society into rigid hierarchical groups, caste discrimination has been a contentious issue for years. The bill, passed on Tuesday by a decisive 31-5 vote, was sponsored by Democratic State Senator Aisha Wahab. She emphasized that this legislation would introduce caste as a protected category within the state’s anti-discrimination laws, alongside gender, race, religion, and disability.
Senator Wahab, who holds the distinction of being the first Muslim and Afghan-American woman elected to the state legislature, expressed her commitment to addressing this long-standing form of discrimination. She stated, “We shined a light on a long-hidden form of discrimination thousands of years old, invisible shackles on the wrist of millions of people.”
However, not all legislators were in favor of the bill. Five Republican state senators voted against it, contending that discrimination was already illegal under existing state laws. Governor Gavin Newsom’s office, a Democrat, has yet to make a final decision on the bill, stating that it will be evaluated when it reaches his desk.
The issue has also sparked debates within various communities. Some Hindu groups argued that the caste system is not a significant problem in North America. The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) expressed their opposition to the bill on social media, stating, “This divisive bill that still implicitly singles out/targets South Asians must be vetoed @GavinNewsom!” In contrast, some Dalit (formerly untouchables) activists have dismissed those claims, citing their own experiences of discrimination by individuals of a privileged caste.
This legislation follows a notable 2020 case in which the technology company Cisco was sued by the state after two high-caste Indian managers were accused of discriminating against a Dalit engineer by paying him a lower salary. The passage of this bill represents a significant step in addressing caste-based discrimination in the United States, with potential implications for similar efforts nationwide.