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SB 403: Ending Caste Discrimination in California

In March of 2023, Equality Labs began a statewide campaign to pass SB-403, a groundbreaking bill that would have ban caste-based discrimination throughout California. Though Newsom rejected the legislation, the caste equity movement still views this as a win. SB-403 is the first anti-caste discrimination bill to have made it all the way through the California legislature.

SB-403 was courageously introduced by Senator Aisha Wahab, California’s first Muslim and Afghan Senator, in February of 2023. This bill, had it been signed into law, would have offered tangible legal protections for the caste-oppressed community, a community that has been historically overlooked.

The bill arose as a remedy for the longstanding historical oppression of caste-oppressed communities in the state of California. The UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues states that “the term ‘caste’ refers to a strict hierarchical social system … in which individuals placed at the bottom of the system may face exclusion and discrimination in a wide range of areas.”

Caste-based discrimination is prevalent in South Asia, but is also common throughout the South Asian diaspora in the U.S. where Equality Labs’ data has found 1 in 4 caste-oppressed people have faced physical and verbal violence, 1 in 3 education discrimination, and 2 out of 3 workplace discrimination.

SB-403 would have clarified existing state law by adding caste as a protected category in California’s anti-discrimination policy, offering legal options for those who have historically had none, and also offering hope and healing for future Dalit generations. Though Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill, our caste equity organizers still view this as a victory, as SB-403 was the first anti-caste discrimination bill to make it all the way through the California Legislature.