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US: California Governor vetoes landmark anti-caste discrimination bill, Indian community lauds move

The SB403 bill was introduced by California Senator Aisha Wahab in March to include caste as a protected category. Newsom said that it was "unnecessary" since laws to protect against caste-discrimination already existed in California.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee California Published on: October 08, 2023 20:22 IST
California Governor Gavin Newsom
Image Source : AP California Governor Gavin Newsom

Gavin Newsom, the Governor of the US State of California, has vetoed a landmark anti-caste discrimination bill that was recently passed by the state assembly, calling the move 'unnecessary' and saying that laws against caste discrimination already exist in the state.

Newsom said that he "cannot sign" the bill known as 'SB403', which, if passed, would have made California the first US State to formally ban discrimination based on caste. The governor's move was welcomed by a large number of members from the Indian-American community, who had opposed the bill.

In a statement on Saturday, Newsom said, "In California, we believe everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter who they are, where they come from, who they love, or where they live."

"That is why California already prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, colour, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other characteristics, and state law specifies that these civil rights protections shall be liberally construed. Because discrimination based on caste is already prohibited under these existing categories, this bill is unnecessary," he added.

The anti-caste discrimination bill in California

The California State Senate passed a Bill to ban caste-based discrimination in the state in May. The Bill promised to give people legal options to address claims of caste bias and discrimination in housing, employment, education and other areas.

The Unruh Civil Rights Act, which states that everyone in the state of California is entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments, is amended by SB 403, which was introduced by California Senator Aisha Wahab, to include caste as a protected category.

Wahab introduced the bill in March, defining "ancestry" for purposes of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the Unruh Act, and the Education Code to include "caste" and other dimensions of ancestry.

SB 403 provides explicit protections to those who have been systemically harmed due to caste bias and prejudice. It also provides firm legal consequences for those seeking to avoid responsibility or ramifications for permitting or participating in caste discrimination and caste-based violence.

Reactions to Newsom's decision

Opponents of the SB403 bill described Newsom's move as "historic" and said that he has prevented the efforts of many to target the South Asian community and the Hindus in the state.

"Governor Newsom has taken a stance to veto SB403 - an attempt to sully the Civil Rights Act by adding discriminatory notes to it with the highly contentious term 'CASTE'. Newsom has recognised the pain and fight of the South Asian micro minority. Democracy wins today in America - the Vox populi that fought to be heard amidst the deafening roar of fake caste narratives," said Castefiles, an educational platform, combating false caste narratives in media.

Additionally, Samir Kalra, managing director of the Hindu American Foundation, said that the California Governor has averted a "civil rights and constitutional disaster" that would have put a target on thousands of Californians based of their ethnicities and religious identities.

"This legislation was undeniably redundant and unnecessary, and I am pleased that our discussions in Chicago bore fruit. The veto of this bill is a testament to the power of constructive dialogue and collaboration," said  Democrat leader Ajay Bhutoria.

The Coalition of Hindus of North America also said that the move represented a culmination of the entire Hindu-American community and hundreds of other organisations, temples and businesses. Americans for Hindus alleged that the bill was not "facially neutral" and relied on "misleading narratives, strawman arguments, and a questionable survey".

Another organisation, Hindu Parents, said that the decision stood as a  beacon against prejudice, discrimination, and misinformation about Hinduism and its followers in California. "With this development, our children can look forward to a future where they are not subject to undue stereotyping and profiling based on perceptions. This ensures they can practise their faith peacefully, with pride, and without the looming shadows of colonial-era stereotypes and prejudice," it said.

(with PTI inputs)

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