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Sacramento, CA – Historic anti-caste legislation to revise California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act by adding caste as a protected category under “ancestry” made it through its final Senate Concurrence hearing today with a 31-5 vote. The California Senate overwhelmingly passed SB403 “Discrimination on the basis of ancestry” and the landmark anti-caste discrimination bill will now go to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk where he will decide whether to sign the bill into law. As a commitment to community healing, reconciliation, and eradication of violence, the California Coalition for Caste Equity (CCCE) has launched a statewide hunger strike until SB403 becomes law. Since its introduction by Senator Aisha Wahab (D-Hayward) in February, the first-of-its-kind legislation has garnered widespread bipartisan support among the nation’s leading legal scholars, caste equity movement organizers, civil rights leaders, workers’ rights groups, and Ravidassia community members.
“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,” writes Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director of Equality Labs, the nation’s leading Dalit civil rights organization.
Caste systems, which exist globally, create social hierarchies based on inherited status. Caste discrimination targets workers across industries who face bullying, harassment, bias, wage theft, sexual harassment, housing discrimination, and hate crimes. The UN Convention on Racism and Discrimination recognizes caste as a form of racial discrimination.
The bill will ensure those permitting or participating in caste-based discrimination in California will be held accountable and face legal ramifications for their actions.
Govind Acharya from Amnesty International USA states: “Caste discrimination is an inherent violation of civil rights. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues states that ‘caste-based discrimination and violence goes against the basic principles of universal human dignity and equality, as it differentiates between “inferior” and “superior” categories of individuals which is unacceptable.’ SB 403 makes it clear that defining the rights of caste-oppressed communities is necessary for justice and dignity. SB 403 reinforces the fact that the opportunity to live a life free from discrimination and violence plays an essential role in advancing international human rights.”
Caste-oppressed Calfornians represent a remarkable capstone of Dalit organizing and Dalit leadership. Today’s win was made possible due to months of dedicated advocacy by caste equity civil rights leaders from the California Coalition for Caste Equity, Ambedkar Association of North America, Alphabet Workers Union-CWA, Equality Labs, Sikh Coalition, SALDEF, Jakara Movement, CAIR California, Indian American Muslim Council, No Separate Justice, South Asian Network, TechEquity Collaborative and many others—who mobilized more than 700 advocacy meetings, sent over five million emails and calls to legislators, participated in public commentary, catalyzed a statewide grassroots caravan, and now have initiated a hunger strike to ensure SB403 is signed into law without delay.
The California Coalition for Caste Equity comprises survivors of many types of caste violence, and they are engaging in this nonviolent hunger strike to remind the state that Californians have lost their jobs due to caste discrimination; have been unhoused due to caste discrimination; and have been harmed irrevocably by physical, sexual, and verbal violence.
“I am fasting as a reminder of how important this bill is to my two daughters. I cannot live in this state knowing that caste discrimination can continue unabated. We fast now for all those who have not been able to speak out,” stated Dr. Nirmal Singh, a doctor, father, proud member of the Shri Guru Ravidassia Community of California, and a lead organizer of the Californians for Caste Equity coalition.
“As a caste-oppressed Muslim, this is an important moment in history. We know that California has always been behind oppressed peoples and for civil rights. We are now fasting to heal our divisions based on caste discrimination. This legislation didn’t divide us, it will keep us together,” said Sana Din from Indian American Muslim Council, No Separate Justice, and member of Californians for Caste Equity.
The statewide hunger strike will feature leaders throughout the duration of until the bill is passed. Equality Labs applauds the California legislature for taking this bold step toward justice and for once again choosing to lead the nation in caste equity and civil rights.