The California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA) today celebrated the successful passage of SB 403 through the California State Legislature with a final Senate concurrence vote. The passage marks a significant win in the fight toward caste equity nationwide, with the California Legislature becoming the first to champion the cause.
SB 403, also known as the “Caste Bill,” was authored by Senator Aisha Wahab, sponsored by Equality Labs, and supported by CAIR-CA. The bill would make California the first state to protect individuals from any form of discrimination or harassment based on their caste or caste-affected background. The legislation has been one of the most prominent bills of the 2023 legislative session.
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Caste is a centuries-old class system, predominantly found in South Asia, determined by birth. The concept has been in the U.S. since at least the mid-1960s when an increasing number of immigrants arrived from South Asia. Discrimination based on caste has led to economic and social inequity, harassment, violence, and even death. Caste has become a tool for workplace discrimination, as lower caste employees report difficulty finding employment, less pay, fewer promotions, and tougher assignments from higher caste management. In social settings, caste can limit relationships and marriages, leading to isolation. Recent reported incidents include Dalits (the term used for those of the lowest class in South Asia’s caste system) being refused housing or evicted from rented homes once their caste was discovered.
In a statement, CAIR-CA Policy & Government Affairs Manager Nazeehah Khan said:
“Healing from systemic violence begins when our government acknowledges and acts to facilitate relief for its people from structures of oppression. Today’s vote has established California as a leader in combatting all forms of discrimination plaguing our diverse state, whether it exists between communities or within communities.
“As we celebrate alongside our coalition partners, the bill’s sponsor, and cosponsors, we urge Governor Newsom to enact SB 403 and make history in America by passing anti-caste bias legislation. We thank Senator Wahab for her leadership and for standing by one of our most vulnerable populations.”
SB 403 will now be enrolled to Governor Gavin Newsom, whose signature would declare the bill law.