California’s caste bill passes key hurdle with 50-3 Assembly vote

by | Aug 29, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — A contentious bill that would declare caste as a protected category under California’s existing anti-discrimination law was passed by the state’s Assembly in a bipartisan 50-3 vote Monday evening (Aug. 28), with 27 members abstaining. The legislation, which had already passed the state Senate, is expected to become law with the governor’s signature.Known as Senate Bill 403, or SB403, the bill was originally introduced by Sen. Aisha Wahab in February and will revise California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, education and housing codes by adding caste as a protected category under “ancestry.” 
Senate Bill 403 became a national cause that exposed a rift among members of the South Asian American community over the prevalence of caste-based discrimination in the United States.
While many South Asians agree that caste has an impact on many lives across the diaspora in the United States, some feel that explicitly outlawing caste discrimination only serves to reaffirm caste differences among, and prejudice against, the U.S. Hindu community. A vocal group who opposed the bill argued that the caste system has been unfairly equated with the Hindu religion in the American imagination.

As a result of monthslong protests from Hindu advocacy organizations that followed the bill as it moved through the California Legislature, SB403 now contains no explicit mentions of South Asia or Hinduism.
On Monday, Equality Labs, a civil rights organizati …

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