California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday vetoed a bill highly watched by the South Asian community that would have banned discrimination on the basis of caste — a system of social hierarchy that dictates a person’s standing from the time they’re born.
Newsom called the bill “unnecessary” in his veto message, saying existing laws already prohibit such discrimination.
If passed, Senate Bill 403 would have made California the first state in the nation to explicitly acknowledge caste in its civil rights code.
Seattle and Fresno have passed such bans in recent months, reflecting growing awareness among officials as South Asian tech workers and university students in California have become more vocal about the biases they’ve faced.
Advocates for the bill included Dalits, caste-oppressed people of South Asian descent, as well as members of the Oaxacan and Indigenous communities who say they have been discriminated against by a similar system. The Ravidassia community, which follows a 14th century Indian guru who preached caste equality and has Dalit roots, also spoke out for the bill.
It is quite clear that California’s law on civil rights already covers all instances of discrimination. We believe that this bill was brought with the sole intention of stereotyping Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Muslims and other communities from South Asia
Hindus celebrating the veto on SB-403
Hindu Parents of California, eminent Indian-Americans and a Dalit advocacy group on Saturday welcomed the decision of California Governor Gavin Newsom to veto the anti-caste discrimination bill observing that this bill was brought with the sole intention of stereotyping the community.
Expressing profound relief and gratitude following Governor Newsome’s decision to veto bill SB403, Hindu Parents said this significant decision stands as a beacon against prejudice, discrimination, and misinformation about Hinduism and its followers in California.
“With this development, our children can look forward to a future where they are not subject to undue stereotyping and profiling based on perceptions. This ensures they can practise their faith peacefully, with pride, and without the looming shadows of colonial-era stereotypes and prejudice,” Hindu Parents said.
California became the First US State to approve Caste Bill
On August 28th, California became the first American state with a anti-caste discrimination bills when the California State Assembly approved the SB 403 bill. This legislation, designed to amend anti-discrimination laws, aims to counteract bias against marginalized communities.
The bill’s sponsor, California State Senator Aisha Wahab, emphasized the importance of preventing discrimination linked to caste within organizations and companies. She stated earlier this year, “We want to ensure organisations and companies do not entrench caste discrimination in their practices or policies, and in order to do that we need to make it plainly clear that discrimination based on caste is against the law.”
American Hindus opposed this controvertial bill
American Hindus opposed SB-403 because both its legislative intent and impact will result in an unconstitutional denial of equal protection and due process to South Asians (the vast majority of whom are of Indian origin) and other vulnerable ethnic communities.
SB-403 unfairly maligns, targets and racially profiles select communities on the basis of their national origin, ethnicity and ancestry for disparate treatment, thereby violating the very laws it seeks to amend, the Unruh Civil Rights Act. It further violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the US and California State Constitutions.”
SB-403 forced Hindu community to find its voice. Several pro-Hindu organizations like CoHNA, and Hindu American spent months in educating the community about their rights, providing trainings and tools to effectively advocate as constituents, peacefully assembling in protest, offering testimonies at the Statehouse, writing countless letters to legislators and Governor Newsom, and meeting with numerous offices have all paid off.
Hindu community is grateful to Hindu Americans across the state who have shown tremendous resilience and to various allies and groups, who come together and fought against this controversial bill.