Exactly 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr gave the historic speech “I have a dream” which exhorted the people to fight against racism in the United States, fight against caste-based discrimination got a leg-up as the bill SB-403 passed its final hurdle on August 28th and breezed through the Californian Assembly with a 50-3 vote; 27 members abstained from voting. With this victory, the bill advances to Governor Gavin Newsom for his signature.
Caste-based hierarchy is a social classification system that has been particularly entrenched in South Asia for more than a millennia. It is still very much operational today and remains the basis for discriminating against people, who are considered to belong to lower level in the caste system or those who are outside the caste system.
The Bill has passed several crucial legislative process since April 25, when it passed the Senate Judicial Committee by a an impressive tally of 8-0. the Bill has passed its final step which is the Californian Senate by an overwhelming 50-3 margin.
The bill which cleared the Senate with few corrections during the appropriation committee vote, goesback to senate for a re-vote.
What made the stride easier for the bill was the Democrat majority in the house; the party to which state Senator Aisha Wahab belongs. Wahab had introduced the bill earlier this year on March 22.
“I appreciate every Assemblymember who voted in support of SB 403 today. I thank them for their courage in joining me on this journey of enshrining in our state laws protections against caste discrimination,” Said Senator Wahab in a press release after the crucial voting.
SB403, introduced by CA State Senator Aisha Wahab earlier this year, has advanced to its final rounds in the legislative process. The bill will now moves to the Senate for its final concurrence vote before heading to the Governor to be signed into official state law.” Informed Equality Labs via a tweet.
An ecstatic Thenmozi Soundarrajan, the founder and Executive Director of Equality Labs tweeted through her handle @dalitdiva that “ We did it #sb403 has made it out of the assembly! Our ancestors are with us this was a win for the ages!!”
Congratulating Equality labs for the historic win Ambedkar Association of North America tweeted “Landmark. Historic. Unprecedented. We are proud to share that California state assembly passed anti caste discrimination bill #SB403 with overwhelming majority. This is what Educate, Agitate and Organize looks like. Thanks to @EqualityLabs and Ravidassia community for this win.”
The Association also issued an Immediate Press Release which which said “Caste discrimination, a deeply entrenched issue impacting countless lives, finds itself squarely addressed in SB-403. The bill introduces comprehensive measures to counter discrimination across sectors such as education, employment, housing, and public services. By establishing these provisions, California takes a crucial step forward in creating an inclusive environment that values diversity and condems bias in all its forms."
Dr. RS Praveen Kumar, who is on a US visit said in a tweet “In a historic vote that will be remembered for generations, the California State Assembly, #USA has approved Bill SB 403 with a 50-3 majority, in a groundbreaking legislation that bans caste-based discrimination, marking a significant leap towards an equitable and just society. All humans are born equal. Well done, Ambedkarites of USA! Unity is our strength.”
Speaking to The Mooknayak, Ram Kumar the Founder and President of Ambedkar International Centre said" It's a dream that is coming true. A long fight is finally close to conclude. We are thankful to all the 50 assembly members who voted yes to support. 3 Assembly members who opposed it must think about their stand for justice and human rights and learn about the brutality of the evil caste system on humanity. Many civil right organizations across the religious boundaries came together to support this historic bill. Many activists showed courage and came out on streets to demand justice irrespective of the perceived risk to their career and lives. This bill created a better understanding among many human rights organizations. This is historic in many ways."
We are very close to the final victory and hope to see it approved by the Senate and signed by the Governor.
The Lawmakers in the Californian senate backed Dalit civil rights group, Equality Labs and dismissed the arguments that the bill unfairly targets Hindus.
There were several other organisations which supported the bill- Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Sikh Coalition, Jakara Movement, South Asian Network, Hindus for Caste Equity, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Alphabet Workers Union, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and Tech Equity Collaborative.
The opponents of the bill, which comprises of mostly Upper-caste Hindus expressed discontent at the passage of the law. On the other hand, the proponents of the bill dismiss the criticism of the bill as an attempt to retain the caste system in the United States.
Suhag Shukla, Executive Director of Hindu American Foundation, a right wing organisation vehemently opposing the bill, appeared disappointed and said in a statement Fifty California legislators chose to side with anti-Hindu hate groups rather than showing moral courage and upholding the Constitution. When a state legislator pushes a law with the intent of targeting an ethnic community, it’s not only racist, it’s unconstitutional.
Senator Aisha Wahab who introduced the billhad reported receiving vitriolic calls, scathing emails, had individuals yelling at her staff at the local office, as a result of the proposed legislation.
The bill had to pass through many stages in the Californian Assembly. The Chronology of the bill’s Journey is as follows
March 22, 2023: State Senator Aisha Wahab introduces the bill in the assembly.
April 25: The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the bill by 8-0, pushing it for further consideration to the next committee. This was the first hurdle, which the bill passed.
May 12: The bill passed its next major hurdle with the California State Senate voting 34-1 in favor of adding caste to the list of protected categories.
July 4: Assembly Judiciary Committee advances the SB-403 bill to the Assembly for the final rounds
August 17: The bill passed the scrutiny of Assembly Approrpriations Committee.
August 28: The bill clears the Assembly floor test vote by 50-3.
Fight Against Caste: Gradually Gaining Traction Across The United States.
The bill will move to the senate for a re-vote before heading to the Governor to be signed into official State law. With this California, which is the richest state of the United States will officially become the first state to add caste to a protected category. Earlier in February Seattle City Council became the first legislative body to add caste to a protected list of already existing anti-discrimination laws.
Fight against caste has also reached varsities across United States. The alma mater of Baba Saheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar became the latest institution to join fight against caste after it added caste as a protected category in its list of discriminations, which have been banned.There are a total 26 Schools and Universities which have off late recognised caste-based discrimination.