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Coalition Reaches Day 29 Of Hunger Strike As Fresno Becomes First California City To Add Caste As Protected Category

Sacramento, CA – Last week, in a California first, the city of Fresno added caste and indigeneity to its anti-discrimination protections. The passage of this historic ordinance is a result of steadfast advocacy by Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha in Fresno and Jakara Movement, a Fresno-based grassroots community-building organization working to empower, educate, and organize Punjabi Sikhs, and other marginalized communities; to advance their health, education, and economic, social, and political power. The win was also helmed by Indigenous Oaxan community members from The Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño (CBDIO)—indicating that caste is an urgent civil rights issue affecting the international community. Fresno is the second American city to ban caste discrimination, following Seattle’s move to add caste as a protected category earlier this year.

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.

“We applaud Fresno City Council members for passing this ordinance amending the Fresno municipal code relating to human rights to include protections against discrimination based on an individual’s caste and indigeneity. We know discrimination is part of the legacy of colonial structure that continues until this date, and we must take concrete steps to address it. This ordinance is one of those steps,” states Dr. Sarait Martinez, EdD, Executive Director of Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño (CBDIO)

Naindeep Singh, Executive Director of Jakara Movement said: “The City of Fresno took a historic step in continuing the struggle for civil rights for all. To bring our Punjabi community, along with groups like CBDIO and families from indigenous communities of Mexico, and all of our Dalit-led courageous organizers and organizations together with our elected representatives sends a powerful message across the Golden State and beyond that the battle for dignity, equality, and humanity is alive and powerful, and still stemming from the Central Valley.”

Amar Daroch, President of Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha in Fresno, California stated: “It is an honor and a dream to have brought freedom for so many peoples in Fresno with this historic win. There are so many of us who are survivors of global caste systems. From Oaxqueno brothers and sisters to my own Guru Ravidass community, we are thrilled to break the shackles of caste. We ask Governor Newsom to help us to continue to make history and now sign SB403!”

This victory comes more than three weeks after the California Coalition for Caste Equity launched a hunger strike to ensure the enactment of anti-caste discrimination bill SB403. SB403 is a bill that supports the protection of caste-oppressed individuals and Indigenous populations who are affected by caste. Last month, SB403 swiftly passed through the California legislature and currently awaits the signature of Governor Gavin Newsom to become official law.

Since the strike’s launch, three major solidarity rallies have been held—each uniting over 250 caste-oppressed community members and allies—with representatives from cities like Bakersfield, Manchego, Fresno, Los Angeles, Selma, Redding, San Francisco, Oakland, Sunnyvale, Fremont and beyond. The strike has quickly emerged as a nationwide calling, with allies across faiths and backgrounds virtually joining and sharing videos expressing their solidarity with the strikers. Today, organizers and strikers are still going strong in the first-of-its-kind act in the history of South Asian American activism.

“We engage in this fast as survivors of caste violence and discrimination. We fast so that no more Californians are unhoused due to caste discrimination. We fast so that no one else loses their job due to caste. And we fast so that no one else must endure verbal, physical and psychological abuse due to caste. We do this to recenter in our sacred commitment to human dignity, reconciliation and freedom and remind the governor and the state of the stakes we face if this bill is not signed into law,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director of Equality Labs, the nation’s leading Dalit civil rights organization.

“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.