California is on course to become the first American state with an anti-caste discrimination law after the California State Assembly approved the SB 403 bill in a bipartisan 50-3 vote Monday evening on August 28th. This legislation, designed to amend anti-discrimination laws, seekss to counteract bias against marginalised communities.
The California state senate had earlier given its nod to this legislation, making California poised to become the first US state to incorporate caste as a safeguarded category in its anti-discrimination laws. The bill will now move to the Senate for a revote to pass the amended version of the bill passed in the Assembly, and then to the State Governor’s desk.
The SB 403 bill aims to safeguard individuals who have been subjected to caste-based discrimination and prejudice, providing explicit protections against systemic harm. This bill also enforces strict legal consequences for those who attempt to evade responsibility or consequences for promoting or participating in such acts of caste-based violence.
This bill comes as a landmark development, following the unanimous approval of the California Senate Judiciary Committee in April. Additionally, the Seattle City Council’s move to prohibit caste discrimination earlier this year, along with several resolutions recognising caste as a protected category passed by prominent organisations like the California Democratic Party, the California State University system, the Alphabet Workers Union, and technology giants such as Apple and Cisco have further cemented the significance of this bill.
The bill’s sponsor, California State Senator Aisha Wahab, stressed on the importance of preventing discrimination linked to caste within organisations and companies.Earlier this year, Senator Wahab stated, “Caste systems are a social hierarchy that limits human potential, crushes spirits and causes intergenerational trauma spanning centuries. People suffer in silence, forever trapped in bondage. No education, marriage, wealth, nor generations can break the invisible shackles of caste imposed at birth.”
Caste activist groups have welcomed the passage of the bill. US based Dalit civil rights organisation Equality Labs posted, “Today, we are celebrating the passage of SB403 by the California Assembly! This historic bill would broaden legal protections for caste-oppressed communities throughout the state.”
Ambedkar Association of North America (AANA) hailed the decision and wrote, “Landmark. Historic. Unprecedented. We are proud to share that California state assembly passed anti caste discrimination bill #SB403 with overwhelming majority. This is what Educate, Agitate and Organize looks like.”
US based Hindu American Foundation criticised the vote. HAF’s Executive Director, Suhag Shukla said, “Today is a sad day. California has reawakened its racist past in passing legislation that demonizes and targets South Asians and Hindus. Fifty California legislators chose to side with anti-Hindu hate groups rather than showing moral courage and upholding the Constitution. When a state legislator pushes a law with the intent of targeting an ethnic community, it’s not only racist, it’s unconstitutional. We will explore every option to protect the rights of Hindu Californians. To the 27 legislators who abstained and the three who voted no, thank you for standing on the side of equality and justice.”