Numerous Indian Americans protested at a rally in California against a Democratic senator for presenting a bill that would officially outlaw caste-based discrimination.
The legislation was initially submitted in the California Senate on March 22 by state senator Aisha Wahab, the first Muslim and Afghan American elected to the state senate. The nation’s most populous state, California, could become the first to outlaw caste-based prejudice if the bill is passed.
Participants at the Wednesday demonstration sponsored by the Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA) claimed that Senator Wahab’s proposed legislation violates the fundamental principles of justice and equality for all people, regardless of their race, religion, or ancestry.
The protesters urged California lawmakers not to single out Hindus or assume that they are oppressive merely because of their birth by displaying placards and banners opposing the legislation.
California is home to numerous tech giants. Caste-based discrimination is a concern for many companies with a South Asian majority. Caste inclusion in state anti-discrimination laws is the goal of the bill.
Employees are shielded from discrimination based on caste in housing, education, and the workplace. It aims to make it clear that caste discrimination is prohibited in order to stop businesses and organisations from institutionalising it.
The protesters stated that SB-403 will safeguard caste in California at Senator Wahab’s office. Based on unreliable and biased statistics, they said it targets South Asians, Japanese, African, and South American persons of colour. The protestors claimed that if passed, the law would deny South Asians and other minorities due process rights and equal protection.
When Seattle’s municipal council approved a resolution from an Indian-American politician and economist, it became the first US city to outlaw caste discrimination. The motion was submitted precisely one month later. The proposal was put up by Council member Kshama Sawant and approved 6-1 by the Seattle City Council.
After the rally, over 100 people expressed their concerns in Fremont City Hall. When putting out the historic law last month, Wahab told reporters that it is about the rights of workers, women, homosexual people, and civil rights.
Wahab at a news conference in Sacramento, California said, “We want to ensure organisations and companies do not entrench caste discrimination in their practices or policies, and in order to do that we need to make it plainly clear that discrimination based on caste is against the law.”
“Caste goes beyond religion and nationality. This legislation primarily protects millions who live in silence and have never had such protection because there is little understanding of this issue. This bill is about protecting people who are vulnerable,” she added.
Caste prejudice, according to Equality Labs, the organisation behind the anti-caste discrimination resolution in Seattle that started a national movement, is rampant in California’s technology, education, construction, restaurant, domestic work, and medical fields.
Indian Americans are concerned that codifying caste may encourage anti-Hindu sentiment. Ten Hindu temples and five sculptures, including those of Mahatma Gandhi and Maratha king Shivaji, have been vandalised throughout the US during the past three years.
Indian Americans make up the second-largest immigrant group in the United States. There were 4.2 million Indian Americans in the 2018 American Community Survey (ACS) conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.