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California Governor Vetoes Anti-Caste Discrimination Bill, Caste Equity Movement Persists

Sacramento, CA – Today, California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed SB403 “Discrimination on the basis of ancestry.” The landmark first-of-its-kind anti-caste discrimination bill would have added “caste” as a protected characteristic under ancestry in California’s anti-discrimination laws. Though Newsom has rejected the legislation for now, the caste equity movement still views this as a win. SB403 is the first anti-caste discrimination bill to have made it all the way through the California legislature. The bill’s overwhelmingly positive trajectory is a manifestation of the enduring power of the intersectional organizing of the California Coalition for Caste Equity which empowered hundreds of organization intersectional grassroots organizers, civil rights leaders, legal scholars, Ravidassia community members, and workers’ rights groups from across California.

The bill was courageously introduced by Senator Aisha Wahab—California’s first Muslim and Afghan Senator—in February of this year and immediately gained widespread support amongst California’s communities. Though there has been volatile disinformation from a few select groups, the South Asian community was never actually divided around the bill—there is unprecedented unity amongst South Asians as well as civil, labor, and gender rights groups who are committed to making American institutions and society more inclusive.

“We are very proud of the power and resilience that caste-oppressed people across the state have shown in their advocacy for SB403. While it is heartbreaking to receive the Governor’s veto, it is not a reflection of the incredible democratic power that our communities showed. We did the impossible. This is the first state bill caste-oppressed people organized and built amazing power and awareness on this issue. We made history conducting the first statewide advocacy days, caravans, and hunger strike for caste equity. We made the world aware that caste exists in the U.S. and our people need a remedy from this violence. A testament to our organizing is in Newsom’s veto where he acknowledges that caste is currently covered. So while we wipe our tears and grieve, know that we are not defeated. For as MLK said though it be long, the arc of the moral universe does eventually bend toward justice. Today, we are continuing our and our ancestors’ call for caste equity. Caste-oppressed people have been mobilizing for years to fight against this form of historical violence and will continue to do so. Due to the pathway paved by the brave civil rights leaders who came before us—Dr. Ambedkar, Rosa Parks, MLK, Savitribai Phule, and many more—we are one step closer to attaining true freedom and healing for we are stronger together,” stated Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director of Equality Labs, the nation’s leading Dalit civil rights organization and member of the California Coalition for Caste Equity.

Our campaign’s organizing efforts have been helmed by civil rights leaders from Alphabet Workers Union, the Ambedkar Association of North America, the California Coalition for Caste Equity, SALDEF, Equality Labs, Sikh Coalition, South Asian Network, TechEquity Collaborative, and many others—who collectively conducted more than 700 advocacy meetings, sent over five million emails and calls to legislators, participated in public commentary by providing personal testimonies, traversed thousands of miles in a statewide grassroots caravan, and initiated a historic hunger strike.

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

Harman Singh, Policy & Education Director, Sikh Coalition

“The Sikh Coalition is deeply disappointed to learn that Gov. Gavin Newsom has chosen to veto SB403. The Sikh Coalition was proud to sponsor this legislation, because we know firsthand the pain and trauma that comes with being targeted by hate, and the Sikh faith explicitly condemns caste discrimination. Accordingly, we joined more than 45 Sikh organizations and gurdwaras in California urging Gov. Newsom to sign this bill. While we are frustrated by this failure to take a meaningful step forward for the civil rights of all, we will continue to fight for legislation that protects all communities—including the Dalit community—from hate and discrimination.”

Kiran Kaur Gill, Executive Director of SALDEF

“We are deeply disappointed by Governor Newsom’s veto of SB 403, which would have banned caste discrimination in California. This veto is a missed opportunity to protect millions of Californians from a form of discrimination that is deeply rooted in our society. But we won’t stop fighting for a more just and equal society and will continue fighting for California to be the first state to ban discrimination based on caste.”

Nirmal Singh, Californians For Caste Equity and Sri Guru Ravidassia Community 

“The introduction of SB-403 represents the shifting tide in California to understand caste-based discrimination. The fact that caste-oppressed people were given a platform to stand up for our basic human rights is a huge win in and of itself. Bills like SB-403 would have allowed us to stand safely in our caste-oppressed identities. Though Governor Newsom has rejected the bill for now, we will continue to work alongside many Californians in labor, civil rights, and interfaith movements to ensure California’s opportunities are accessible for all going forward.”

Sana Qutubuddin, No Separate Justice/Indian American Council

“As an Indian Muslim, my freedom is connected to the freedom of all caste-oppressed 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, I can affirm that it is unbelievably important that the California legislature listened to the pain of caste-oppressed people of all faiths and worked swiftly to remedy this violence. This veto will not keep us from seeking justice. Justice can no longer be delayed and we cannot wait to continue to build with fellow Californians on this important issue in the future.”

Megan Abell, TechEquity Collaborative

“We are disappointed to see the veto of SB 403. Workers in all industries in California face caste discrimination, and tech workers are no exception. This mistreatment tells us that current laws are not enough—our fight is not over, and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure that workers are explicitly, clearly, protected.”