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California state legislature passes invoice banning caste-based discrimination | Civil Rights Information


The California state legislature has develop into the primary in the USA to go a invoice banning discrimination primarily based on caste, a centuries-old system of social stratification with roots in South Asia.

On Tuesday, the State Senate handed SB 403 by a margin of 31-5, including caste as a type of ancestry protected underneath state civil rights regulation, in addition to schooling and housing codes.

The invoice now heads to the desk of Governor Gavin Newsom, with activists calling on the Democrat to signal it into regulation.

“I’m proud to face in solidarity with each one that mentioned they, as a Californian, skilled caste discrimination, and others who say they need it to cease,” Democratic State Senator Aisha Wahab, the invoice’s writer, mentioned in a information convention on Wednesday.

“We shined a lightweight on a long-hidden type of discrimination 1000’s of years outdated, invisible shackles on the wrist of hundreds of thousands of individuals.”

The passage of the invoice, supported by a big selection of civil rights and social justice organisations, has been hailed as probably the most vital victory but in combatting casteism in North America.

Earlier than its passage in California’s Senate, the invoice had additionally cleared the State Meeting on August 29 with a 55-3 vote, an indication of broad assist.

Dalits, who occupy the bottom rung of the caste system, say that caste-based discrimination stays prevalent throughout the South Asian diaspora, going down in workplaces, school rooms and social settings.

Caste has existed for millennia in international locations like India, which formally abolished the system following the nation’s independence within the late Nineteen Forties. Nonetheless, Dalits say discrimination and violent enforcement of social division have remained persistent realities.

In California, some members of the Dalit neighborhood say they solely turned conscious of their caste after experiencing discrimination from privileged-caste people.

“My household by no means talked about caste or advised me about us being Dalit,” Shahira Kaur, who labored with the Dalit rights group Equality Labs to advertise the invoice, mentioned in a briefing following final week’s State Meeting vote.

That began to alter, she mentioned, when she overheard her pal’s mom seek advice from her as a “chamar”, a slur used towards Dalits, in highschool.

“That was a really arduous second,” she mentioned, including that a few of her South Asian mates stopped associating along with her in school afterwards. One pal even requested her to sit down at a separate lunch desk as a result of she was “soiled”.

Governor Newsom has not commented on the invoice, however activists are assured that the vast margins by which it handed within the State Senate and Meeting point out it is going to efficiently be signed into regulation.

“We united lots of of organisations to come back along with one function: to make our state extra accessible for alternative for all and to free out establishments from discrimination,” Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the director of Equality Labs, mentioned at Wednesday’s information convention.

Soundararajan added that she and different members of California Coalition for Caste Fairness (CCCE), an alliance of teams that promoted the invoice, have launched a starvation strike in assist of its closing passage.

“Till this invoice turns into regulation, we is not going to eat. And a part of it’s a sacred dedication to like, to unity, to therapeutic and reconciliation. As a result of we imagine that we’re stronger collectively,” she mentioned.

Whereas SB 403 handed with comparatively little resistance within the state legislature, it confronted fierce opposition from numerous Hindu American teams, who at the moment are calling on Newsom to veto it.

“This divisive invoice that also implicitly singles out/targets South Asians should be vetoed @GavinNewsom!” the Hindu American Basis (HAF) mentioned in a social media publish following the invoice’s passage within the State Meeting.

Such teams dispute that caste-based discrimination is a severe concern in North America and argue that the laws singles out Hindus.

Dalit rights teams firmly rejected these claims and have portrayed them as a type of backlash towards political mobilisation by caste-oppressed individuals.

“Whereas my employees and I’ve at all times seen this as a commonsense invoice, it has not been a straightforward invoice,” Senator Wahab, who’s California’s first Afghan-American feminine legislator, mentioned on Wednesday. “There was plenty of dialogue, misinformation and, frankly, bigoted feedback directed at me, in addition to the bigger motion.”

Different supporters of the invoice additionally deny that it’ll open the door to discrimination towards South Asians.

“Caste is a brutal system of social stratification. It’s the antithesis of equality and human dignity,” Kiran Gill, director of the Sikh American Authorized Protection and Training Fund (SALDEF), advised Al Jazeera over a latest cellphone name.

“The Sikh neighborhood has skilled civil rights abuses. We all know what it means to be marginalised, and we felt the necessity to assist and uplift this trigger.”

Whereas the California invoice marks probably the most vital effort but to deliver caste underneath the safety of civil rights regulation, it follows a string of victories in cities and municipalities throughout North America.

The US metropolis of Seattle voted to ban discrimination primarily based on caste in February. The next month, the college board for the Canadian metropolis of Toronto moved to recognise caste-based discrimination and work in direction of a framework for combatting it.

“We thank Kshama Sawant who began this within the Seattle Metropolis, Aisha Wahab who initiated this in California,” Anil Wagde, an activist with the group People Towards Caste Discrimination, advised Al Jazeera.

After the invoice handed the State Meeting final week, supporters gathered outdoors of the State Capitol constructing to have a good time with chants honouring Dalit civil rights chief Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who wrote India’s structure and was a fierce critic of the oppressive nature of the caste system.

“Jai bhim! Jai bhim!” the group chanted, utilizing a slogan fashionable amongst Dalits. It interprets to: “Victory to Bhim!”


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