California Senate Passes Bill Against Caste Bias in Historic Move
Image Courtesy: Americanbazaaronline
California could soon become the first US state to protect caste if senator Aisha Wahab’s SB 403 Discrimination on the Basis of Caste Bill, which makes caste discrimination illegal and passed the Senate, sails through the Democratic-controlled State Assembly. The Bill was passed by the Senate by 34-1.
America Against Caste Discrimination (AACD), a coalition of Indian-American civil and human rights organisations, congratulated the Senate for “taking this historical step”.
“California will start a domino effect to end caste discrimination with an aye vote on SB403. The world is watching. I trust my colleagues to stand on the right side of history on this matter,” Wahab said on the Senate floor.
In a press release, AACD said that thousands of emails and phone calls from community groups or caste-oppressed people supported the Bill, including mass mobilisation by California’s Ravidassia community, which played a central role in its passage.
The Bill was supported by Dalit civil rights organisation Equality Labs, a wide variety of interfaith organisations, workers’ organisations like Socialist Alternative, California Labor Federation and civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP.
Only senator Brian Jones, who cited groups raising concerns about the Bill, voted against it with five senators absent. Groups in the US opposing this civil rights measure include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
“SB403 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 free and equal, and are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments,” the statement reads.
AACD, which represents the Indian diaspora’s true diversity in the US, will continue mobilising its constituent communities to ensure the Bill passes both Houses of the California legislature and is signed into law.
“California has seen several high-profile caste discrimination cases in the hiring and promotional practices of Silicon Valley’s tech giants and beyond, including at Cisco and within the California State University system,” AACD said.
The Senate’s vote follows legislation to ban caste discrimination passed by the Seattle City Council earlier this year as well as resolutions to designate caste as a protected category passed by institutions like the California Democratic Party, the California State University system, the Alphabet Workers Union and corporations like Apple and Cisco.
“It is very encouraging to see that the lawmakers of the largest US state are marching very fast to enact one of the most important civil rights laws in the 21st century. It gives great hope and encouragement that California lawmakers not only understood the intra-group discrimination based on caste existing among South Asians but also took courageous political positions to outlaw the same.”
With a 19.25 million workforce and a $3.6 trillion GDP, such legal protections in California will help all its people let go of the fear of discrimination and allow them to explore their full potential, making California safer, more equitable and more prosperous, AACD said. The Senate's vote on SB 403 shows that California leads the world towards a more equitable society internationally.
“AACD will continue our mass mobilisation for SB 403 through mass education to make it all the way up to the governor’s signature to outlaw caste discrimination in California,” S Karthikeyan, secretary, Ambedkar King Study Circle, said.
Anil Wagde, an activist with Ambedkar International Center, said, “It is great to see the Senate passing the Bill. If the bipartisan support is any indication, it will also pass in the House.”
Wagde added that the Bill is “not about who shows up in bigger numbers but about what is the right thing to do. The US should be a discrimination-free country, and as such, America Against Caste Discrimination (AACD) will leave no stone unturned to ensure the passage of this Bill”.
Vinod of Bhim International Foundation, USA, said, “Thank you to the community which participated in SB403 mobilisation, and thanks to all the senators. The Ravidassia community will continue to work tirelessly with other caste-oppressed communities and allies till this Bill becomes a law."
“Following our historic victory in Seattle in February, the California Senate has voted to ban 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 international momentum. Solidarity to all fighting oppression under capitalism!” said Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Council member of Socialist Alternative.
“We are thrilled to see SB 403, the Discrimination on the Basis of Caste Bill, pass through the California Senate. This is a significant step forward in the fight against caste-based discrimination, and we applaud the Senate for taking action to protect the rights of Dalits and other marginalised communities. The Bill recognises the insidious nature of caste discrimination and will help to ensure that it has no place in California,” said Syed Ishaq of the Indian American Muslim Council.
Raju Rajgopal of Hindus for Human Rights said, “As a Californian and co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights, I am proud that our state is showing the world that there will be no tolerance for caste discrimination in the workplace and educational institutions.”
The Bill’s passage is a “victory for all those who have faced caste discrimination in South Asia and are likely face caste discrimination in America, and a defeat for the baseless fears and insecurities of opponents, who have never had to face caste discrimination”. he added.
Ambedkar International Mission USA congratulated Wahab, the California Senate members, AAC, and all ground activists. “This victory affirms our collective strength as a united group on the AACD platform and strengthens our resolve to continue our struggle to fight social, economic, and gender discrimination and oppression, which will pave the path of equality and justice for our future generations as well as to other parts of the world where caste discrimination needs redressing!”
Roja Singh, cofounder of Dalit Solidarity Forum, USA, said, “It is time to root out this transplanted disease of caste hierarchy and practice. It is a shame that we have to wrestle this oppression by its horns here in the USA, founded on liberation principles. We commend the dedication of those who believe in human dignity in California! Thanks, California for leading the way. Jai Bhim.”
AACD called on the rest of the US to follow the lead of California and Seattle and pass legislation banning caste discrimination in all forms and settings to create a safer and more equal America for all.
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