In a historic move, the California State Senate on Thursday passed a legislation that would ban caste-based discrimination in the state.
Passed by 34-1 vote, the bill SB 403, would make California the first United States state to add caste as a protected category in its anti-discrimination laws.
Promoters of the bill, being led by non-profit Equality Lab, said that a similar bill is being introduced in the State House of Representatives, before it can be sent to the Governor to be signed into a law.
Introduced by California Senator Aisha Wahab, SB 403 adds caste as a protected category to an existing law, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which provides that all people in the state of California are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments.
SB 403 provides explicit protections to those who have been systemically harmed due to caste bias and prejudice.
It also provides firm legal consequences for those seeking to avoid responsibility or ramifications for permitting or participating in caste discrimination and caste-based violence.
This landmark bill comes just weeks after the California Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed SB403 in April.
It also follows the Seattle City Council's historic legislation banning caste discrimination earlier this year, as well as resolutions to designate caste as a protected category passed by the California Democratic Party, the California State University system, the Alphabet Workers Union, tech giants like Apple and Cisco, and others.
Seattle Council member Kshama Sawant, who was instrumental in Seattle being the first city to pass anti-caste discrimination law, welcomed the passage of SB 403 by the California State Senate.
Following our historic victory in Seattle in February, the California Senate has voted in favour of banning caste discrimination, Sawant said.
"The bill now goes to the Assembly. Anti-caste activists, working people, union members, and my socialist Council office built a fighting movement to win in Seattle, creating national and even international momentum. Solidarity to all fighting oppression under capitalism!" she said.
"On behalf of all Dalit Californians and caste-oppressed people around the world, we are ecstatic that the California Senate has passed SB403 off the Senate floor. This is a win rooted in years of Dalit feminist organising, and we are just getting started in making the state safe for our entire caste-oppressed community," said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Equality Labs executive director and author of The Trauma of Caste.
'We know that we have a long journey ahead of us with this bill, but we have made history with this vote and are proud to look forward to working with the California Assembly on this historic bill! Equality Labs thanks all of the partners in Californians for Caste Equity who worked tirelessly to get us this far,' she said.
Tanuja Gupta, law student, activist, and a former Google engineering programme manager, said ending caste discrimination will soon no longer be an opt-in for a California-based company like Google, but a legal requirement of its existence.
Deelip Mhaske, president of Foundation For Human Horizon, congratulated State Senator Aisha Wahab for introducing the bill in the California Senate.
'This is a win for the Indian Constitution framed by Dr B R Ambedkar's equality principle.'
Indian American Muslim Council president Mohammad Jawad commended the California Senate for passing SB 403.
This is a historic moment for the Dalit community, which has been fighting against caste-based discrimination for generations.
The passage of this bill sends a strong message that caste discrimination has no place in California.
The bill will provide much-needed protection to Dalits and others who face discrimination based on their caste, he said.
'We urge the California Assembly to pass this bill without delay, and for Governor Newsom to sign it into law. We also call on other states and the US Congress to follow California's lead in recognising caste discrimination as a form of discrimination and taking steps to address it. Discrimination based on caste is a violation of human rights and must be eradicated wherever it exists,' said IAMC executive director Rasheed Ahmed.