Amid threats, California lawmaker calls bill barring caste discrimination ‘right thing to do’

by | Apr 26, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — With only a couple of months in office, newly elected state Sen. Aisha Wahab introduced a historic bill that could make California the first state to outlaw caste-based discrimination in the United States. Wahab’s measure has garnered global attention, adding caste — an ancient system of social hierarchy determined by birth — as a protected category in the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Caste discrimination is “a social justice and civil rights issue,” she has said.
Hundreds on Tuesday (April 25) provided testimony for and against this bill as it passed through the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. The bill, known as SB 403, now heads to the Appropriations Committee. 
People of South Asian descent, particularly Dalits who are at the lowest strata of the caste system, say the bill is crucial to protect them from discrimination in housing, education and tech sectors. Among the organizations supporting the measure are Hindus for Caste Equity and the Sikh Coalition, which noted that Sikhs know “firsthand the pain and trauma that comes with being repeatedly targeted by hate and discrimination.”
It has also spurred pushback, from groups such as the Hindu American Foundation and the Coalition of Hindus of North America, who say the bill targets Hindus and Indian Americans who are commonly associated with the caste system. The organizations have submitted letters of opposition, saying Wahab’s measure “seeks to codify” negative stereotypes and stigmas that Hindus and Indian Americans face. Critics also say current laws in place offer protection …

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