On May 11, the California state Senate passed legislation banning caste-based discrimination in a historic move. Senator Aisha Wahab introduced this bill on March 22. This bill was endorsed by a coalition of organisations coming from various religious and caste backgrounds, such as the California Labour Federation, MeToo International, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The bill SB 403 will provide legal options to individuals who receive caste bias and discrimination in housing, employment, education, and other contexts. A vote of 34-1 approved the bill.
This bill’s provision will protect people who have suffered systemic harm due to caste bias and prejudice. Furthermore, it creates unambiguous legal implications for anyone who seeks to avoid accountability or responsibility for supporting or participating in caste-based violence.
It has been observed in recent years among South Asians by the advocates for caste-oppressed people that institutions and workplaces are ill-equipped to deal with caste bias.
While interacting with media, the founder of ‘Equality Labs’, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, who is also a Dalit activist, said, “There are so many people that want to heal from the trauma of caste”. He added, “what’s been incredible about this moment is to see these really beautiful inter-caste and interfaith alliances, groups that have all said that they’ve been harmed by caste and want freedom from it”.
When she introduced the bill in March, Senator Wahab told the media that “the more diverse California becomes and the United States becomes, we need to protect more people in the way the American dream was originally supposed to”. She added, “Our laws need to expand and cover more people and go deeper”.
This bill now needs to be passed in the State Assembly and by Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk to become law. If the bill passes, then California will become the first state to include caste as a protected category under its anti-discrimination laws.
This bill came after Seattle, a city in Washington state, banned caste discrimination in February 2023. In Seattle, Councilmember Kshama Sawant played a very important role in passing the anti-caste discrimination law. She even welcomed the California’s bill, “following our historic victory in Seattle in February, the California Senate has voted in favour of banning caste discrimination”.
Even the California Democratic Party, the California State University system, the Alphabet Workers Union, corporate behemoths like Apple and Cisco, and others have passed resolutions designating caste as a protected class.