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California’s Anti-Caste Discrimination Bill Advances to Final Rounds in Legislative Process

After months of advocacy by civil rights leaders across the nation, the historic bill that would end caste discrimination in the state of California has been advanced following a successful July 5th Assembly Judiciary vote. SB 403, initially introduced by California State Senator Aisha Wahab earlier this year, has advanced to its final rounds in the legislative process. Now, SB 403 will head to review by the Appropriations Committee, where the legislature will determine whether or not this bill should have a place in California’s state budget priorities.

Today’s major victory for the caste equity movement comes on the heels of our announcement in May that the bill was swiftly passed in its preliminary Senate hearing followed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 34-1 vote on the Senate floor. The anti-caste discrimination bill is backed by a growing list of labor, racial, and gender justice organizations from the California Coalition for Caste Equity which includes hundreds of organizations like California Labor Fed, ACLU, Metoo Movement, South Asian Bar Association, California Asian American Bar Association, Asian Law Caucus, Equality Labs, Jakara Movement, South Asian Network, Hindus for Caste Equity, Caste Equity Legal Task Force, Ambedkar Association of North America, Sri Guru Ravidass Sabas from around the state, over 30+ Sikh gurdwaras across the state, and many other bold advocates who are fighting to protect the basic human rights of the caste-oppressed.

This first-of-its-kind legislation would make California the first U.S. state to adopt sweeping legal protections for the caste-oppressed community—a community that has experienced historical oppression and systemic exclusion in numerous sectors throughout the nation. While traditionally associated with South Asian cultures, caste systems have a longstanding history in the United States and California. These systems of hierarchy subsequently pervade U.S. workplaces and have led to wage theft, bias, and in some cases even harassment.

SB 403 provides legal protections for a community that has historically been overlooked and is inclusive of all communities experiencing caste discrimination. It also affirms that California stands alongside those who have suffered from caste-based discrimination, offering hope and healing for future generations.

Below is a set of quotes from key co-sponsors and supporters:

Dr. Nirmal Singh Shri Guru Ravidass Community, Bakersfield “To me, this win represents the shifting tide in California to understand caste discrimination. The fact that caste-oppressed people are allowed to stand up for our basic human rights is a huge win in and of itself. Because of SB-403, we will no longer have to hide in fear or change our names to receive equal treatment. We can stand safely in our caste-oppressed identities and work alongside many other South Asians of different castes and Californians in labor and interfaith movements to ensure California’s opportunity is accessible for all.”

Tarina Mand South Asian Bar Association Civil Rights Taskforce “As our communities process some incredibly disheartening judicial decisions in recent weeks about the value of our diverse national spirit, the passage of SB-403 today stands out as a watershed moment. Taking a bold step to dismantle caste discrimination is a call for equity and a recognition that deep seated biases can be passed through a community for generations and through continents.”

Tanuja Gupta Former Google employee and whistleblower “Workers need SB403. This bill protects workers who speak out against caste discrimination AND those who are accused of caste discrimination. Until SB403 is law, California companies and courts alike will struggle to understand the meaning of caste, the required level of rigor around internal investigations of caste discrimination, and how caste fits into the legal framework for discrimination claims, in terms of the burdens of proof, production and persuasion. SB403 requires public and private institutions to reckon with matters of the caste in modern America. I hope this committee does the same here today.”

Amar Shergill Chair Emeritus California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus “Today, once again, we see the success of the bipartisan interfaith coalition that has built an overwhelming statewide consensus to end caste discrimination in California. I look forward to working with our allies to pass this bill in the Assembly and carry our efforts nationwide.”

Alphabet Workers Union “As a pre-majority union in today’s tech industry, Alphabet Workers Union-Communications Workers of America unapologetically believes that caste must be coded into California law as a class protected from discrimination. We are proud supporters of SB403 and we are organizing together to create a better Google, Youtube, and Alphabet. The stories of caste discrimination in the workplace are all too real. The ways that caste discrimination manifests itself in the workplace could impact our coworkers’ immigration status, bonus structures, pathways to promotion or full-time employee conversion, and/or a continuous pattern of temporary and contracted work. We reject the notion that including caste as a protected class is divisive – what is ‘divisive’ is discriminatory behavior and poor diversity and inclusion training pertaining to ‘caste’ in the workplace.” – Alphabet Workers Union-Communications Workers of America Local 9009

Thenmozhi Soundararajan Equality Labs “Today’s win marks another historic landmark in the progress of caste-oppressed people everywhere. We are grateful for the judiciary committee to understand the serious and grave discrimination caste-oppressed people face and we look forward to the continued success of this bill and to making civil rights history in California and for all Dalit people. Our ancestors are with us as continuing onward in stopping this harm and building the path to healing and reconciliation.”

Sana Din Indian American Muslim Council/ No Separate Justice, Californians for Caste Equity “As an Indian Muslim, my freedom is connected to the freedom of Dalit people. We are united in our ask for caste equity and we ask all folks to stand with the cause for justice and love. As a caste oppressed Muslim, it is important to me that California legislators listen to the pain of caste oppressed people of all faiths and work swiftly to remedy this violence. Justice can no longer be delayed and we cannot wait to build with fellow Californians on this important issue.”

Vinod Chumber Shri Guru Ravidass Community, Union City “This is the moment our people have been waiting for. Discrimination is a blight on society that robs us of our collective potential. Let us rise above the shackles of caste-based discrimination and embrace equality, for it is in unity and acceptance that we find true progress and a brighter future for all.”

Naindeep Singh Jakara Movement “Today is the critical moment where California legislators put away their differences, to affirm civil rights for all Californians. A historic coalition of 40+ Sikh communities across California unapologetically stands together with our caste-oppressed families, united, emboldened, and powerful, in amplifying the clarion call from the 15th century Punjab to 21st century California, demanding an end to caste discrimination and equality for all.”

Prem Pariyar National Association of Social Workers and Hindus for Caste Equity “I am brimming with immense pride as I bear witness to this momentous occasion in California, where the resounding support for the ban on caste discrimination shines through. This extraordinary triumph infuses hope into the hearts of countless Dalits and advocates alike. Personally, it strikes a chord within me, as a Hindu Nepali Dalit, I too have experienced the sting of discrimination in my workplace and places of worship, fueling my unwavering resolve to fight against caste injustice here in California. Today’s overwhelming votes have swung open the doors of gratitude, with our ancestors beaming down upon us while future generations cherish this day as an indelible marker in history. Let it be unequivocally declared that caste discrimination has no place in society, whether it be in America or anywhere else across the globe. That is precisely why certain esteemed institutions of higher learning have ardently stricken it from their campuses including the CSU system, and why tireless workers persist in their noble battle for their rights and dignity in the face of caste discrimination.”

Shakeel Syed South Asian Network “As an Indian American Muslim living in California & statewide leader of South Asian Network, I am glad this bill will proceed to the next stage. As someone with caste privilege, I hope it will bring reconciliation and healing to our communities as well as needed respite to the casteism we see across so many of our clients. I am sorry for the casteism I have seen in my past but our goal now is to stop this discrimination in the present and then to work together to build bridges of understanding and hope. We are stronger together and this bill is the first step towards that.”

Deepak Saroya Shri Guru Ravidass Community, Sacramento “I am so proud to be an integral part of this special moment in California history. We walk this path also with our ancestors. We are inspired by our great saints like Guru Ravidass and Guru Kabir ji and follow humbly in their footsteps. We are determined to make California the first state to ban discrimination on the basis of caste. Like all other Americans, Dalits also need equality in all modes of our life.”

Raj Sood Shri Guru Ravidass Community, Sacramento “When I heard about the bill, I immediately had to join this movement. I want freedom for me and all of my people. As a truck driver, people like me are not often heard in the halls of power, but this time I knew I had to raise my voice alongside thousands of other caste-oppressed people across the state. So that future generations would know that I was willing to drive from the border to the top of the state bringing the call of Dalit freedom wherever we could. I can’t tell you how much joy I have in helping to make history and my commitment is rooted in Guru Granth Sahib and our next generation.”

Sulakhan Singh Shri Guru Ravidass Community, Selma, California “I have faced discrimination my whole life. From discrimination when I was looking to get married and people not wanting a Dalit groom in their family to workplace discrimination and now as a business owner, people deny me investment and workers do not want to work for a Dalit business owner. Customers also threaten me because they don’t want to buy goods and services from caste oppressed people. How much can one community take? Caste is impacting our communities’ economic development and our access to opportunity. SB 403 is the path toward equity we and all caste oppressed people need, and that is why I am proud to be part of this historic moment.”

Jasbir Maman Shri Guru Ravidass Community, Selma, California “Nothing could have kept me away from telling the pain of my people. I am determined that the way my ancestors suffered, the way my parents suffered and what I have endured must not be passed on to the new generation. We must break this cycle of violence, and I am here to break this silence once for all. This caravan has brought us together around one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our time: caste equity. I truly hope we can look back and recognize how our grassroots actions changed California for the better for all!”

SatPaul Surila International Bahujan Organization, Pittsburgh, California “I’m proud to be a part of the SB 403 campaign to end caste discrimination in California and for our future generations. Caste discrimination is a very serious crisis for mental and physical health. We need to end caste discrimination once and for all, not just in California but throughout the world, everyone deserves to live their life with dignity and respect.”

Ramesh Suman Supreme Council of Shri Guru Ravidass Sabhas of California “We are very pleased to see this historic solidarity and unity among our sangat of Sri Guru Ravidass temples across the state in support of the bill SB403. We are so happy that the bill is moving forward and we will continue until we make California a Begampura as our guruji wanted.”

Kulwant Banga and Vinod Kumar Sri Guri Ravidass Community of Pittsburgh “On behalf of Shri Guru Ravidass temple of Pittsburgh I congratulate the entire community on this historic victory of SB403 in the judiciary committee today. We look forward to this bill becoming a law soon.”

Maya Kamble Ambedkar Association of North America “Despite what opponents of this bill suggest, SB-403 seeks to build a better, more improved, and more peaceful California for everyone. This bill does not, nor will it ever target Hindus or any specific faith. Rather, it provides protections for all—ensuring that California continues to hold its long standing title as one of the most inclusive U.S. states.”

Megan Abell Senior Director of Advocacy at TechEquity Collaborative “We know that across the tech industry, caste bias can cause harassment and career immobility on the job. That’s why we’re delighted to see that today, our lawmakers took a stand against caste-based discrimination. Let’s get SB 403 over the finish line to ensure all workers, in tech and beyond, are protected.”