California State Senate passes caste discrimination bill

Washington: The California Senate has overwhelmingly passed a legislation seeking to explicitly ban caste discrimination, in a historic move that would make America’s most populous State also the country’s first to outlaw caste-based bias.

State Senator Aisha Wahab, the first Muslim and Afghan American elected to the state legislature, introduced the bill last month.

Passed by 34-1 vote, the bill – SB 403, would make California the first US State to add caste as a protected category in its anti-discrimination laws.

Those who have suffered systemic harm as a result of caste bias and prejudice are explicitly protected by SB 403’s provisions. Additionally, it establishes clear legal repercussions for anyone who tries to escape accountability or responsibilities for condoning or taking part in caste-based violence.

Seattle was the first US city to include caste protections in its anti-discrimination statutes earlier this year, and several colleges and universities have taken similar steps.

Advocates for caste-oppressed individuals have said that institutions and workplaces are ill-equipped to deal with caste bias, which has been documented in recent years among South Asians in the US, according to CNN.

The California law was proposed in March by Democratic state senator Aisha Wahab, who at the time told CNN that caste was a problem for her residents in her area, which includes portions of the East Bay and Silicon Valley.

Wahab, an Afghan American, claimed that while growing up in Fremont, a city in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, she saw the toll caste took on other families.

A coalition of organisations from various religious and caste backgrounds also backed the bill. The California State Assembly will now consider the bill.