A legislation that would ban the act of casting-based discrimination in the state of California has successfully passed its first critical hurdle in the legislative process.
The state's Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the bill by 8-0 votes, resulting in sending it for further consideration to the next committee.
If the legislation passes through, it can potentially make California the first state in the country to render caste bias as an illegal act under the state's anti-discriminatory laws, including it as a protected section.
Senator Aisha Wahab, the first Muslim and Afghan-origin elected to the state legislature, had introduced the bill a month ago.
"We have uncovered and touched upon a form of discrimination that many were oblivious to," said Wahab, the Democrat from Hayward, who revealed that she had received death threats after proposing this legislation. "Caste is an intangible shackle implemented on individuals right from their birth. Those of us who did not grow up in that system cannot comprehend the toll it takes on one's mental health and the inter-generational trauma it inflicts "she said.
The recent development of the California Senate Judiciary Committee voting in favor of banning caste discrimination has brought a sense of hope and triumph to Dalit right activists amidst the ongoing celebrations of Dalit History Month.
Ashok Swain, a professor of peace and conflict research, hailed the judiciary committee's decision to pass the bill. He said it is a major setback for Hindu supremacist diaspora group in America. Meanwhile, Ambedkarites and human rights activists celebrated the committee's move and raised 'Jai Bhim' slogans.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Equality Labs wrote in a tweet, "We are unanimous!! Sb403 has passed and dalit californians voices have won the day. We now take the battle forward as our ancestors stood with us as we turned pain into power! ".
The Dalit diva in one of her previous tweets, had said "California, which has one of the largest south Asian populations in the country, has become ground zero for the caste equity movement that is why I said, "Caste is one of the most severe versions of anti-Asian hate, but it’s not as visible because it’s hate amongst us.”
The proposed Caste Ban Bill i.e SB-403, in California has sparked controversy and divided the Indo-American community. The bill aims to add caste as a separate non-discrimination category, which opponents argue is unconstitutional and discriminatory towards people of South Asian origin. Critics have launched an online petition to oppose the bill and have been educating lawmakers about their concerns. Aisha Wahab, the senator who proposed the bill, received life threats, which was strongly condemned by the community.
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a strong critic of the bill, has condemned the hateful messages and threats aimed at the law maker.A tweet from the official handle of the HAF read, " We strongly condemn hateful messages & threats that Aisha Wahab reported receiving after proposing SB-403. HAF is actively educating lawmakers about why we oppose the bill—including a letter campaign for CA residents, but we insist on civil, constructive & respectful dialogue." The bill's proponents argue that it is necessary to eliminate discrimination based on caste, which is not currently covered under existing laws.
The introduction of the bill by the determined California state lawmaker to outlaw caste-based discrimination brought Islamophobic threats from both domestic and foreign sources. Senator Aisha Wahab who introduced the bill on March 22, reported that her office has been bombarded with a tsunami of vitriolic calls, scathing emails, and individuals yelling at her staff at the local office, as a result of the proposed legislation. Mean while , the proposed bill to ban caste-based discrimination met with opposition from a few right-wing groups.
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