California could soon become the first state in the country to officially ban caste discrimination.
Moving forward: Sen. Aisha Wahab’s (D-CA) anti-caste discrimination bill, Senate Bill 403, received an overwhelming 50-3 vote during Monday’s state assembly and is now being returned for a re-vote before Gov. Gavin Newsom signs the new bill into law. The latest move came months after Seattle became the first city in the country to ban caste discrimination.
Her reaction: In a statement on Monday, Wahab, who is the first Muslim and Afghan American elected to the state legislature, thanked those who supported and voted for the bill, including “the numerous civil rights organizations, legal organizations, and bar associations across the state and nation.”
“We are protecting people from a long-standing form of discrimination with SB 403,” Wahab continued.
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The bill’s history: Wahab first introduced SB 403 to the California Senate on March 22. In a statement in May, after the bill received a vote of 34-1, Wahab explained that “this bill is about workers’ rights, women’s rights, and civil rights. This bill is about ensuring the American Dream is accessible to all those who pursue it.”
About the bill: SB 403 aims to add caste as a protected category under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act and fair housing and employment laws.
Opposing the bill: Wahab’s SB 403 reportedly saw strong opposition throughout its process, including those who sought to remove the word “caste” from the bill, or the bill itself.
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The California senator eventually removed the bill’s background information on South Asia and the caste system in July after Assembly members Alex Lee and Evan Low requested the Assembly Judiciary Committee include caste under the ancestry subcategory of the state Unruh Civil Rights Act in June.
The opposition’s reason: Pushpita Prasad, a board member of the Coalition of Hindus in North America, said in July that the bill “stereotypes and profiles one community based on something we can’t control, which is our birth.”
“So, we really ask our legislators to reject it, and to really stop platforming hate against a minority community.”
About the system: The caste system had been practiced for centuries before it was outlawed in 1949. As one of the world’s oldest forms of social stratification, the caste system is divided into four categories: the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. Outside of those four were the achhoots or the Dalits, formerly known as the untouchables.
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