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California senator introduces new invoice outlawing caste discrimination

California might grow to be the primary state within the nation to outlaw caste-based bias, a safeguard individuals of South Asian descent say is important to guard them from discrimination in housing, schooling and the tech sector the place they maintain key roles.

State Sen. Aisha Wahab, the primary Muslim and Afghan American elected to the state legislature, launched the invoice Wednesday. It provides caste — a division of individuals associated to beginning or descent — as a protected class within the state’s anti-discrimination legal guidelines.

These on the lowest strata of the caste system referred to as Dalits, have been more and more calling for such laws saying they’ve confronted this type of discrimination in america. However such insurance policies stay divisive.


Wahab stated caste discrimination is “a social justice and civil rights challenge.”

“Folks got here to this nation to allow them to be free and may pursue their American dream with none disruption to their lives,” Wahab stated, including that she heard about this type of discrimination rising up in Fremont, California, and residing within the San Francisco Bay Space.

However some teams such because the Hindu American Basis and the Coalition of Hindus of North America oppose such insurance policies. They argue these measures will damage a group that already faces hate and discrimination, and can particularly goal Hindus and Indian People who’re generally related to the caste system. The laws is being backed by different teams resembling Hindus for Human Rights and Hindus for Caste Fairness.

A United Nations report in 2016 stated a minimum of 250 million individuals worldwide nonetheless face caste discrimination in Asia, Africa, the Center East and Pacific areas, in addition to in varied diaspora communities. Caste techniques are discovered amongst Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Muslims and Sikhs.

Wahab stated she is “deeply delicate to how minority religions and teams are depicted.”

“Caste goes past faith and nationality,” she stated. “This laws primarily protects tens of millions who reside in silence and have by no means had such safety as a result of there’s little understanding of this challenge. This invoice is about defending people who find themselves weak.”

In February, Seattle turned the primary U.S. metropolis and the primary jurisdiction outdoors South Asia so as to add caste to its anti-discrimination legal guidelines. A number of faculties and universities have additionally enacted comparable insurance policies barring caste discrimination on campuses, together with College of California, Davis.

A 2020 survey of Indian People by the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace discovered caste discrimination was reported by 5% of survey respondents. Whereas 53% of foreign-born Hindu Indian People stated they affiliate with a caste group, solely 34% of U.S. born Hindu Indian People stated they do the identical.

Nonetheless, a 2016 Equality Labs survey of 1,500 South Asians within the U.S. confirmed 67% of Dalits who responded reported being handled unfairly due to their caste.


California “has been floor zero for the caste fairness motion,” stated Thenmozhi Soundararajan, founder and government director of Oakland, California-based Equality Labs, a Dalit advocacy group.

“This laws is about clarifying current protections and making them express,” she stated.

The Hindu American Basis disagrees. Samir Kalra, the group’s managing director, stated it’s “a harmful and misguided invoice that targets, racially profiles, and institutionalizes bias in opposition to all residents of Indian and South Asian origin, in addition to a couple of different weak communities of coloration.”

Kalra stated California legislators needs to be defending everybody’s civil rights, however “they’re as an alternative trampling the elemental constitutional rights of particular minority communities.”

In line with a 2021 report by the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Research, Asians, together with South Asians, maintain 37.8% of technical roles and 25.3% of management roles at Silicon Valley’s largest tech firms.

In 2020, California regulators sued Cisco Programs saying a Dalit Indian engineer confronted caste discrimination on the firm’s Silicon Valley headquarters. In one other case, Tanuja Gupta, stop her senior supervisor job at Google Information final 12 months after blowback over inviting Soundararajan to talk to staff throughout April, which is Dalit Historical past Month. The speak was canceled and Gupta accused her former employer of retaliation, which Google has denied.

Gupta stated she is backing the invoice as a result of these dealing with caste discrimination don’t have any safety or authorized recourse proper now.

“That is the type of accountability we’d like,” she stated. “Individuals are afraid to talk up when they’re discriminated in opposition to as a result of they’re afraid to rock the boat they usually concern they might lose their job or employment visa. It is a laborious cycle to interrupt and you may solely do it when somebody is prepared to danger all the things.”

Caste is “not a non secular challenge, however a civil rights challenge,” stated Gupta.

Shakeel Syed, government director of South Asian Community in Artesia, California, stated he sees caste discrimination amongst staff and he has helped in instances the place caste performed a task in wage theft and housing discrimination.

“When hardworking individuals are not revered or valued merely due to their caste, that’s simply blatantly fallacious,” he stated.

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