California Senator Aisha Wahab, vote on Senate Bill 403 in Assembly
California Senator Aisha Wahab, vote on Senate Bill 403 in Assembly

California Assembly passes anti-caste Bill, soon to make it official state law

With its passage in the state Assembly, California is close to becoming the first US state to ban caste discrimination, with only a final concurrence and a sign-off from the Governor before it becomes official state law.

In another significant moment for the movement against caste discrimination in the United States, a Bill to make caste discrimination illegal was passed by the California State Assembly on Monday, August 28, with 50 votes in its favour and only three against it. It was earlier passed by the state's Senate in May this year. With its passage in the state Assembly, California will become the first US state to ban caste discrimination. 

The legislation will add caste as a protected category under 'ancestry' in California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, Education, and Housing codes. The Bill will now move to the Senate for its final concurrence vote on the amended version of the Bill, before the Governor signs it into official state law.

"The Assembly Vote is a win for the ages. After conducting over 700 advocacy meetings across the entire state of California, the people have spoken resoundingly for caste equity protections," Thenmozhi Soundararajan of Equality Labs, one of the organisations involved in the movement to recognise caste-based discrimination in the United States said. "As a Californian who has endured caste my whole life, I know the struggles and adversity caste-oppressed Californians have unjustly faced firsthand. Caste-oppressed people have organized for over twenty years so we could have lives free from violent attacks and discrimination; now, the California Assembly has voted decisively to bring us closer to victory." Thenmozhi said. 

The development comes after Senator Aisha Wahab, a Democratic Party lawmaker, authored and introduced the SB-403 Bill, a legislation that proposed adding caste as a protected category in the state's anti-discrimination laws along with gender, race, religion and disability. The Bill was passed by the state's senate in May with a 34-1 vote. Earlier in February, Seattle became the first city in the US to outlaw caste discrimination.

The movement to add caste as a protected category in the United States is propelled by a multi-faith and inter-caste coalition of Dalit and human rights organisations coordinated by Equality Labs.

However, the Bill met strong opposition from a section of Indian-American residents who argue that it will 'discriminate against Hindus' and 'racially profile select communities on the basis of their ethnicity and ancestry for disparate treatment'.

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