California senate passes a bill on caste discrimination


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California has moved one step closer to banning caste discrimination in the state.

The state Senate passed a bill that would update California’s civil rights law to explicitly include protections against discrimination based on a person’s perceived caste. The measure, the first such effort by a US state legislature, would give people legal recourse to address claims of caste bias and discrimination in housing, employment, education and other arenas. It was approved 34-1.

Democratic state Sen. Aisha Wahab introduced the California bill in march. Though Wahab is Afghan American, she said that she witnessed the toll caste took on other families growing up in Fremont.

“Caste discrimination poses a threat to California industries from agriculture to health care and technology, although it may not be obvious,” Wahab said on the state Senate floor ahead of Thursday’s vote.

The California bill has faced opposition from some Hindu groups, including the Hindu American Foundation, who argue that the bill singles out Indian Americans and Hindus and would open them up to racial profiling, harassment and bullying. But Wahab insisted that her bill does not target any one community or religion, and would merely clarify existing protections for caste-oppressed people.

“The nation rallied in 2020 to address the systemic inequalities that continue to perpetuate discrimination against Black community members,” she said Thursday. “There’s similar reckoning to destroy the wheel of power and privilege perpetuated by caste systems.”

A coalition of groups across faiths and caste backgrounds also supported the bill.

The bill now moves to the California State Assembly for consideration.

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