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SB 403: Ending Caste Discrimination in California

In March 2023, Equality Labs began a statewide campaign to pass SB-403, a bill that would ban caste-based discrimination throughout California. On April 25, 3023, in a historic win, Equality Labs’ advocacy work led to the California State Senate Judiciary Committee members’ landmark decision to vote ‘Yes’ to move the anti-caste discrimination bill forward to the Senate, marking the first time the State has heard or advanced a bill that would make caste protections explicit.

SB-403, courageously introduced by Senator Aisha Wahab—California’s first Muslim and Afghan Senator—would offer tangible legal protections for the caste-oppressed community, a community that has been historically overlooked.

The bill arises as a remedy for the longstanding historical oppression of caste oppressed communities in the state. 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 clarify 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.