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Thenmozhi Soundararajan Testifies in Support of SB 403

Chairman Umberg, Vice Chair Wilk and esteemed members of the committee, thank you for having me here today.

My name is Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director of the Dalit civil rights organization Equality Labs. I also am a board member of the MeToo Movement and am a proud founder of the Californians for Caste Equity Coalition. I also stand here personally as a survivor of caste-based violence.

On behalf of my community and our allies, I have one message today: caste-oppressed Californians are here, and we deserve workplaces and schools free from discrimination and violence.

California is ground zero for caste inequality and Sacramento is our Birmingham in the quest for our people to be free. Our research found that 1 in 4 caste-oppressed people face physical or verbal assault, 1 in 3 educational discrimination, and 2 in 3 workplace discrimination.

Our data is backed by numerous testimonies we have gathered across the state—from workers across every industry including farmworkers, truck drivers, caregivers, small business owners, doctors, techies, each with their own story of heartbreak, each with their determination to end caste today.

And so caste-oppressed Californians have come out of the closet from San Diego to Shasta County to bear our truths and speak for those who cannot.

*We speak for the employees who have raised this issue to HR and who were turned away at companies like Google and Cisco, because they were told caste is not covered.

We speak for our children who want to be free from caste.

And most importantly we speak for ourselves, as we want to heal from the trauma of caste. But we cannot heal if we do not have a remedy for this discrimination.*

And though we have faced violence and bigotry, we meet our opponents with love and empathy for we only want to make California safer for all its residents, including them.

So we ask you to take a stand with us in moral courage and make California the first state in the nation to explicitly protect its citizens from discrimination based on caste. The five letters of caste might seem so small to you, but for those of us oppressed by our perceived caste for centuries, they spell freedom, dignity and lay out a path for healing and reconciliation. Thank you.

I grew up in Orange County, where I was bullied for my caste throughout my education, including at UC Berkeley. I also was one of the organizers who worked to bring Laki Bali Reddy to justice. Reddy was a real estate mogul who exploited 200 workers and trafficked teenage Dalit girls to be his sex slaves.

That is why SB 403 is urgent.