California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Saturday vetoed a bill that would have banned caste discrimination in the state.
Senate Bill 403 would have expanded the definition of ancestry in the state’s existing nondiscrimination law to include caste. Before the veto was California It plans to become the first state in the US to ban caste discrimination pursuant to the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the Fair Employment and Housing Act, and the Education Code.
The caste system is a structure of oppression that places people into a social hierarchy based on the caste they were born into. The system originated in South Asia but is widespread and exists throughout the United States and around the world. Caste discrimination became illegal in India in 1950, but Dalits, the lowest caste in the hierarchy, are still affected in India, other South Asian countries and around the world, including the US
Newsom said in his Veto letter on Saturday that the bill was “unnecessary” since caste discrimination was already prohibited under the state’s existing civil rights protections, which should be “construed liberally.”
The veto came just days after two Republican senators vetoed it letter called for a veto, saying the bill was “discriminatory” and “would not only target and racially profile South Asian Californians, but would also endanger other California residents and businesses and jeopardize our state’s innovative edge.”
A 2016 report by Equality Labs, a Dalit-led anti-caste organization, found that 25% of Dalits who responded to their survey said they had experienced verbal or physical harassment based on their caste, and 60% experienced derogatory jokes and /or comments based on caste.
The report also found that two out of three Dalits surveyed said they had been treated unfairly at work because of their caste.
In 2020 an andmark legal action was filed against Cisco Systems Inc. for caste discrimination in the workplace. The suit It was the first time in history that a US government agency had initiated a case against a private company for caste discrimination, they said Viceand led to widespread discussions about caste discrimination in the United States
It also fostered solidarity among others in the company, prompting 250 Dalit employees from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Netflix to speak about their experiences of caste discrimination at the hands of their upper-caste colleagues.
California’s SB 403 was introduced in March by State Senator Aisha Wahab (D), who said This is caste discrimination “a question of social justice and civil rights.” Accordingly, the hearings on the bill were among the most attended of the session Politico.
“This legislation primarily protects millions who live in silence and have never had such protection because there is little understanding of this issue. This law is about protecting vulnerable people,” Wahab said in March when the bill was first introduced. AP reported.
HuffPost reached out to Wahab for comment on the veto and did not receive an immediate response.
California’s South Asian community has been divided by the bill. Several groups opposed the legislation, such as the Hindu American Foundation, which did so said in March that the bill “unfairly denigrates, targets, and racially profiles select communities on the basis of their national origin, ethnicity, and ancestry in order to treat them differently.”
Meanwhile, caste justice activists who supported the bill went on a hunger strike outside Newsom’s office last month to pressure him to sign the bill. NBC News reported.
“This system is an inhumane system, it is a psychological and mental trauma,” Nirmal Singh, one of the hunger strike participants, said last month, according to NBC News. “As a father of two wonderful girls, it is very important to me to do my best to create a safe environment for them that is conducive to their personal development… I want to leave them a safe California.”
In February, Seattle became the first city in the US to ban caste discriminationfollowed by Fresno, California in September.