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Newsom Vetoes California Anti-Caste Discrimination Bill

Newsom Vetoes California Anti-Caste Discrimination Bill

The California State Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif., on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Sophie Li

Sophie Li

10/11/2023

Updated: 10/11/2023

California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed Oct. 7 a bill that would have included caste as a protected anti-discrimination category.
Senate Bill 403, introduced by Sen. Aisha Wahab (D-Hayward), cleared the state Legislature last month and was presented to the governor for approval on Sept. 11.
However, Mr. Newsom announced in a veto statement released on Saturday that he would not endorse the legislation because such discrimination is already prohibited under existing law.
“This bill is unnecessary,” he said in the veto message. “California already prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other characteristics, and state law specifies that these civil rights protections shall be liberally construed.”
The bill’s author, however, expressed a different view.
“The question of whether our laws are sufficient to account for incidents of caste discrimination is what prompted this legislation in the first place,” Ms. Wahab said in a statement to The Epoch Times. “[T]hrough this process, we shined a light on a long-hidden form of discrimination that persists across multiple communities in California.”
She also mentioned that better-defined laws can provide improved protection for communities.
“I believe our laws need to be more explicit especially in times when we see civil rights being eroded across the country,” she said.
The caste system, an ancient social hierarchy originating in India, historically categorized Hindus into four primary groups: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras, with those excluded referred to as Dalits or “untouchables.”
While the Indian government officially banned caste-based discrimination in 1948, recent studies indicate that biases related to caste persist in various settings, including workplaces, in both India and the United States.
Sen. Aisha Wahab, D-Hayward, speaking at the California Senate Chamber in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 5, 2023. (Courtesy of Senate Rules Photography)

Sen. Aisha Wahab, D-Hayward, speaking at the California Senate Chamber in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 5, 2023. (Courtesy of Senate Rules Photography)

Proponents of the bill voiced their disappointment with the governor’s decision.
“Many landmark civil rights bills took repeated iterations and years to pass but it is a testament to the righteous energy in this movement that we came so far, so fast,” said Amar Singh Shergill, chair emeritus of the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. “Caste discrimination is a scourge which we have brought to the top of public consciousness and that new fact will spare many people from suffering.”
However, opponents of the bill commended the veto, saying that such a bill would do harm to the population it deems to protect.
“[SB 403] sought to deny civil rights to marginalized communities, using the guise of equality, and by appropriating our marginalized identities to butcher the very cultural existence of us Dalits and Bahujans,” Ambedkar-Phule Network of American Dalits and Bahujans, a nonprofit that represents Indians in the United States including the so-called “untouchables,” said in a press release issued Saturday.
In a letter sent to the governor and other policymakers to express their opposition to the bill, the organization said that labeling American Dalits as oppressed victims would create more social tensions.
“This targets millions of ‘upper caste’ Indian Americans as oppressors (which is unconstitutional), and permanently labels us American Dalits as oppressed victims,” the letter, which was shared with The Epoch Times, said. “The implicit labeling of our communities as oppressed will eventually erase our identities, because future generations of Dalit Americans do not want to be referred to as victims.”
There are reportedly close to 900,000 Indian Americans living in California, according to the Indian American Impact, a national political organization based in Philadelphia.
The issue of caste discrimination among Indians in the United States gained prominence in 2020 when a California civil rights enforcement agency filed a lawsuit against Silicon Valley-based Cisco Systems.
The lawsuit alleged that one of the company’s engineers, who belonged to the Dalit caste, experienced pay disparities and limited opportunities due to his caste status, according to court documents.
Although the case, which was filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, was ultimately voluntarily dismissed by the agency, it made headlines in the United States and in India, setting off a wave of discussions on caste discrimination.
Earlier this year, Seattle became the first U.S. city to prohibit caste discrimination through a city council decision.
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Sophie Li

Sophie Li

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Sophie Li is a Southern California-based reporter covering local daily news, state policies, and breaking news for The Epoch Times. Besides writing, she is also passionate about reading, photography, and tennis.

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