California Takes Major Step to Outlaw Caste Discrimination with Passing of SB-403 in State Senate
The bill SB 403, seeking to ban caste discrimination in California has passed a major test with the California State Senate voting 34-1 in favor of adding caste to the list of protected categories.
Aisha Wahab, a Democratic state senator, introduced the bill in March with the aim of making caste bias an illegal act under the state’s anti-discriminatory law.
The development comes after the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill unanimously on April 25.
The bill will now be scrutinized by a total of 80 members in the House of Representatives before it can become law. If signed, California will become the first state in the US to outlaw caste-based discrimination, which is significant considering California's economic power with Silicon Valley, home to major global corporations including Apple and Intel.
Equality Labs, an organisation run by Dalit Activist Thenimozi Sundarrajan said in a post “ Today, California chose to lead the nation in caste equity by advancing SB 403. With a 34-1 vote, the California Senate passed SB 403–the landmark bill that would ban caste-based discrimination. With California’s historic win on the forefront of our minds, we want to take some time to extend our gratitude to the caste abolitionist civil rights leaders who continue to inform our caste equity organizing efforts."
"It shows that opponents of this bill don't have much support”
Speaking to The Mooknayak from California Ram Kumar, President and founding member of Ambedkar International Centre said, "It was a major milestone today on may 11th. Passing of the SB 403 bill in Senate with 34-1 vote shows that opponents of this bill don't have much support.”
First major step on 25th April was winning this bill by 11-0 in senate judiciary committee. The passage of the bill augured that Democrats and Republicans are serious about the human rights impact of casteism and want to outlaw it.
Ramkumar said “It was 11 out of 40 senators so we were still nervous about the passage as California is a large state and remaning 29 senators represented different demographics and Asian populations. But now (after the passage of the bill) It is a big relief for all of us who are supporting and raising voice to see SB 403 as a law."
The next stop for the bill is in the House of representative. Where it will face the scrutiny of a total 80 members, comprising of 62 democrats and 18 Republicans. The supporters of the bill believe that going by the trends till now, it will be a cakewalk for the bill to pass that as California Democratic party has already included caste as a protected category in the party constitution and they are in an overwhelming majority in the House. Apart from this, most Republicans have also already supported the bill in the two voting sessions.
Finally, the bill goes to Governor Gavin Newsom, himself a democrat and is not likely to oppose the bill. And with the Governor signing the bill, California will become the first state in the US to make caste bias as an illegal act under the state’s anti-discriminatory law.
California- The significance of the possible inclusion in caste as a protected category in the state can be gauged from the fact that besides being the richest state In the US, California is the biggest sub-national economy of the world and its economy is bigger than that of India. Silicon Valley, located in the northern part of the state, home to most of the biggest corporations of the world including Apple, Intel, Netflix, Cisco etc.
Cisco episode highlighted the importance of adding caste in the protected category
In 2021, A Dalit employee of Cisco alleged that his two Indian Supervisors, who belonged to Upper-caste of the Hindu Social order discriminated against him on the basis of caste. However, the lawsuit against Cisco engineers was dismissed by the California Civil Rights Department while maintaining its lawsuit against Cisco as a whole. Many believe that with the inclusion of caste in the protected category, such scenarios could be avoided.
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