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US: California Senate passes Bill to ban caste discrimination

The Bill would give people legal options to address claims of caste bias and discrimination in housing, employment, education and other areas.

Arushi Jaiswal Edited By: Arushi Jaiswal California Published on: May 12, 2023 9:03 IST
California Senate, caste discrimination
Image Source : PTI California Senate passes Bill on caste discrimination

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

The law was passed by a 34-1 vote. After the SB 403 Bill, California become the first US state to add caste as a protected category in its anti-discrimination laws. Before the bill can be sent to the governor to be signed into law, its promoters, being led by the nonprofit Equality Lab, said that a similar bill is being introduced in the State House of Representatives.

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.

SB 403 provides protections from caste bias and prejudice

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.

This landmark bill comes just weeks after the California Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed SB403 in April. It also follows the Seattle City Council's historic legislation banning caste discrimination earlier this year, as well as resolutions to designate caste as a protected category passed by the California Democratic Party, the California State University system, the Alphabet Workers Union, tech giants like Apple and Cisco, and others.

California Senate voted in favour of banning caste discrimination

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who was instrumental in Seattle being the first city to pass anti-caste discrimination law, welcomed the passage of SB 403 by the California State Senate. "Following our historic victory in Seattle in February, the California Senate has voted in favour of banning caste discrimination," Sawant said.

"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 even international momentum. Solidarity to all fighting oppression under capitalism!" she said.

"On behalf of all Dalit Californians and caste-oppressed people around the world, we are ecstatic that the California Senate has passed SB403 off the Senate floor. This is a win rooted in years of Dalit feminist organising, and we are just getting started in making the state safe for our entire caste-oppressed community," said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Equality Labs executive director and author of The Trauma of Caste.

"We know that we have a long journey ahead of us with this bill, but we have made history with this vote and are proud to look forward to working with the California Assembly on this historic bill! Equality Labs thanks all of the partners in Californians for Caste Equity who worked tirelessly to get us this far," she said.

Tanuja Gupta, law student, activist, and a former Google engineering programme manager, said ending caste discrimination will soon no longer be an opt-in for a California-based company like Google, but a legal requirement of its existence.

'Historic moment for Dalit community'

Deelip Mhaske, president of Foundation For Human Horizon, congratulated State Senator Aisha Wahab for introducing the bill in the California Senate. "This is a win for the Indian Constitution framed by Dr B R Ambedkar's equality principle." Indian American Muslim Council president Mohammad Jawad commended the California Senate for passing SB 403.

"This is a historic moment for the Dalit community, which has been fighting against caste-based discrimination for generations. The passage of this bill sends a strong message that caste discrimination has no place in California. The bill will provide much-needed protection to Dalits and others who face discrimination based on their caste," he said.

"We urge the California Assembly to pass this bill without delay, and for Governor Newsom to sign it into law. We also call on other states and the US Congress to follow California's lead in recognizing caste discrimination as a form of discrimination and taking steps to address it. Discrimination based on caste is a violation of human rights and must be eradicated wherever it exists," said IAMC executive director Rasheed Ahmed.

(With PTI inputs)

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