Friday, June 2, 2023

California Senate committee passes bill to end caste discrimination

A bill seeking to explicitly ban caste discrimination in California has been unanimously passed by the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee, amidst strong opposition from Indian-American business and temple organisations.
The California Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday unanimously voted ‘Yes’ to move the anti-caste discrimination bill forward to the Senate. This is for the first time that a US State legislature would consider legislation on caste.
If passed, the bill could make America’s most populous state also the country’s first to make caste bias illegal by adding it as a protected category in the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
“Today, I proudly stand in solidarity with my caste-oppressed community members, caste equity movement organisers, and allies to say that caste-oppressed Californians are now one step closer to attaining the protections they deserve and are entitled to,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Equality Labs and author of ‘The Trauma of Caste’.
Earlier at a news conference, she said the bill was a result of 15 years of hard-won organising in the state by caste-oppressed people.
“The need for this bill is urgent. We have then some of the highest rates of discrimination of any Asian American community in the state. That is why we are here to stand in our truth to organise for our freedom,” she had said.
Equality Labs, the brain behind the anti-caste discrimination resolution in Seattle, has been spearheading a nationwide campaign. Seattle became the first US city to outlaw caste discrimination in February.
California, a western US state located along the Pacific Coast with nearly 39.2 million residents, is the most populous US state and the third-largest by area.
“Caste discrimination is unlawful and unjust—this bill will heal us all from the horrors of caste,” Pooja Ren from ‘Hindus for Caste Equity’ said after the bill cleared its first big legislative hurdle.
Amar Shergill, Democratic Chair of Progressive Caucus, said California has made it clear that it will not tolerate discrimination or violence of any kind.
State Senator Aisha Wahab, the first Muslim and Afghan American elected to the state legislature, introduced the bill last month.
The move came exactly one month after Seattle became the first US city to outlaw caste discrimination after its local council passed a resolution moved by an Indian-American politician and economist. The resolution, moved by Kshama Sawant, an upper-caste Hindu, was approved by the Seattle City Council by six to one vote.
Major Indian businesses and temples issued a joint statement opposing the proposed California Caste Bill SB 403.
Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), the largest hotel owners association in the US with 20,000 members, Asian American Store Owners Association (AASOA), representing over 8,300 store owners throughout the nation condemned it.
Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference (HMEC), an umbrella organisation of Hindu temples in North America, the Hindu Business Network (HBN), and the Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective (HinduPACT) also criticised the bill.
Kalpesh Joshi, a Board Member of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, said AAHOA is strongly against the bill. “We believe that it will disproportionately impact Indian hotel and motel owners,” he said.
Vipul Patel, president of Asian American Shop Owners Association (AASOA), said the bill is based on the fabricated narrative of caste discrimination in America.
“This bill is misguided and will promote prejudice against all Indian-American small business owners including shop owners who form the backbone of California’s economy in these challenging economic times.


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