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Civil Rights Leaders Celebrate SB403’s Successful Assembly Vote

SACRAMENTO, CA– On August 28th, the California Coalition for Caste Equity—-made up of civil rights organizations, state legislators, and community advocates—-gathered to celebrate the advancement of California’s landmark anti-caste discrimination bill through its Assembly Floor hearing. Today, the California Assembly passed Senate Bill 403 with a 55-3 vote, which would broaden legal protections for caste-oppressed communities throughout the state.

The historic legislation will revise California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, Education, and Housing codes by adding caste as a protected category under “ancestry.” SB403 is now expected to move to the Senate for its final concurrence vote, typically the last hurdle in the legislative process before heading to the Governor to be signed into official state law. Since its introduction earlier this year, the bill has flown through the different steps in the legislature, achieving a largely bipartisan consensus across multiple labor and civil rights entities.

This major news follows The American Bar Association’s recent passage of the report and resolution HOD 513, which encourages the legal protection of those at the lowest tier in the caste system—known as Dalits—who currently represent the world’s biggest caste-oppressed community. The recent influx of victories indicates that the movement for caste equity continues to gain traction across a wide variety of groups. Asian Law CaucusAlphabet Workers Union, the California Coalition for Caste Equity, Equality LabsTechEquity Collaborative, caste equity organizers, Ravidassia community members from across the state and many others have backed SB403 from the beginning, with with the California Democratic Party taking a huge step by officially endorsing the bill in August of this year.

If passed by the Senate, this bill would make California the first U.S. state to add caste as a protected category in its anti-discrimination laws. SB403 was specifically designed to provide legal protections for those who have been adversely affected by caste bias and prejudice throughout the state of California.

The bill has been under fire from various opponents—namely those who unjustly feel SB403 will reduce their power over marginalized populations. SB403, at its core, is an anti-discrimination bill and does not target any religious or cultural groups; that would directly go against the bill’s very nature. There is no underlying agenda or controversy surrounding the legislation. People of all faiths, backgrounds, and nationalities have peacefully united to advocate for SB403—creating a truly stunning response to the international call for caste equity.

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

Fatima Iqbal-Zubair CADEM Progressive Caucus Chair “Progressive values first and foremost means listening to and standing up for the civil rights of the oppressed in our communities. SB 403 is a transformative bill that uplifts those that have been marginalized and harmed for far too long. I commend the leadership of Equality Labs and Senator Aisha Wahab who in her tenure in the Senate has shown up for the most vulnerable among us. I also commend the bipartisan leadership and coalition that pushed this bill to the Governor’s desk. We are at the cusp of transformative change and this is just the first step towards our continual fight for justice. We must continue to hold our coalition strong!”

Thenmozhi Soundararajan Equality Labs “The Assembly Vote is a win for the ages. After conducting over 700 advocacy meetings across the entire state of California, the people have spoken resoundingly for caste equity protections. As a Californian who has endured caste my whole life, I know the struggles and adversity caste-oppressed Californians have unjustly faced firsthand. Caste-oppressed people have organized for over twenty years so we could have lives free from violent attacks and discrimination; now, the California assembly has voted decisively to bring us closer to victory. As the bill progresses, we ask Governor Newsom to sign this bill once it crosses his desk so that California can lead the nation and the world to ensure that our institutions are free from discrimination and ensure opportunity for all.”

Dr. Nirmal Singh Shri Guru Ravidass Community, Bakersfield “SB403 has shown that more and more of us can come together to combat caste-based discrimination. As caste-oppressed people, we must have our basic human rights protected. SB403 will guarantee us those rights and freedoms. I look forward to the day, in the near future, when SB403 passes in the Senate and I can stand safely in my own caste identity. As part of this civil right movement to end caste based discrimination in the state of California, history is being written and posterity will remember these actions. Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar would have felt proud of us today, if he were physically present among us.”

Pooja Ren Hindus for Caste Equity “As a Dalit Hindu, I want to make sure we can make workplaces safe for all workers, as well as all schools for my children. Future Dalit generations in the diaspora must be protected. Pathways must be paved for our children to feel safe from casteist bullying and discrimination from casteist parents. For we must have justice when caste-discrimination occurs. We are a community that has suffered for centuries, and protection will give us the human rights as residents of California to live a life free from caste discrimination. We are tired of living in the closet and hiding our identities so that our children do not have to endure what we survived. Change can only happen through policy protections. We need to heal from the violence of caste and as Hindus it is our duty to stand in this powerful interfaith, intercaste, and multiracial movement to remedy caste inequality. For it is clear that caste discrimination is unlawful and through this bill we intend to set the table for our community to heal and reconcile from caste. We thank the California Assembly for standing with us!”

Sana Qutubuddin Indian American Muslim Council and No Separate Justice “As a caste-oppressed Indian Muslim, my freedom is connected to the freedom of all caste-oppressed people and I am filled with unstoppable joy with our victory in the Assembly today. We are united in our ask for caste equity and we ask all folks to stand with the cause for justice and love. 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.”

Prem Pariyar National Association of Social Workers and Alameda County Human Rights Commissioner “I am immensely proud to witness this historic moment in California, where the ban on caste discrimination is resoundingly supported. This triumph brings hope to Dalits and advocates, echoing my own experiences as a Hindu Nepali Dalit who has faced discrimination in the workplace and places of worship. Today’s overwhelming votes mark a day of gratitude for our ancestors and a milestone in history. Let us declare that caste discrimination has no place in society, be it in America or anywhere else. This is why esteemed institutions like the CSU system and the American Bar Association have taken a stand, and why tireless workers continue their noble battle for rights and dignity.”

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

Tanuja Gupta Law Student, Activist, Google whistleblower on caste discrimination Founder of Caste Equity Legal Task Force “SB403 protects workers who speak out against caste discrimination AND those who are accused of caste discrimination. Companies and courts alike will now better understand the meaning of caste, the required level of rigor around internal investigations of caste discrimination, and how caste fits into California’s 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.”

Amar Shergill Chair Emeritus California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus “Today, once again, we see the success of the bipartisan, interfaith, and inter-caste coalition that is building an overwhelming statewide consensus to end caste discrimination in California. There is broad consensus in California among Democrats and Republicans that discrimination, in any form, is unacceptable. It was my honor to help advance the successful effort to ban caste discrimination in the California Democratic Party, and we appreciate Senator Wahab leading the way to extend the prohibition to the State of California. It is our duty to stand up for equal opportunity for all Californians.”

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.”

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. We look forward to this bill becoming a law soon.”

Shahira Bhangar Californians for Caste Equity “As a Dalit Sikh woman who was born and raised in California, this Bill is close to my heart. One of my earliest memories as a teenager was being bullied and harassed in school when my dominant caste friends found out about my caste. I also vividly recall landing my first Silicon Valley tech job post-grad but being questioned about my caste background by my supervisor. It is imperative that a legal remedy is in place and that clear caste equity protections are implemented in the State of California immediately. The State of California is taking a historic lead for caste-oppressed folks everywhere—caste discrimination is rampant and the first step to rectify this issue is with explicit protections.”

Kiran Kaur Gill Executive Director of SALDEF “SB403 is a crucial piece of legislation that will protect vulnerable communities from discrimination and foster a more equitable California. We are proud to stand alongside our coalition partners in advocating for the passage of this historic bill. Caste-based discrimination is especially prevalent in South Asian communities in America, but this bill sets a national example for expanding civil rights and the American values of liberty and justice for all.”

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 assembly 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.”

Shakeel Syed South Asian Network “As an Indian American Muslim living in California and 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.”