A new state Senator, Aisha Wahab, has proposed a bill that received a lot more backlash and has been creating more controversy than expected. She presented an anti-caste discrimination bill. In this, castes would join the list of protected groups in the state of California. The bill, which just seeks to respond to a civil rights issue, is described by some to be unnecessary and paints South Asian communities in a negative light.
In the past few months since the bill was first proposed, hundreds have flocked to the Capitol in Sacramento to protest the bill.
The bill would mark the first of its kind to pass in any state in the U.S. Similar laws are in place in Seattle with other cities considering it. California would be the first to pass an anti-caste discrimination bill on a larger scale in the United States. While it has not been an easy journey for the bill or Wahab personally, having received personal death threats, many expect the bill to pass and for Governor Gavin Newsom to sign it into action.
Wahab represents a predominantly South Asian district. Her district is home to one of the largest communities of Indian Americans in the state. Among the community itself, there have been many mixed reactions to the bill. Some feel castes are not something that should be standing alongside the other currently protected groups. One person opposed to the bill is Suhag Shukla, the executive director of the Hindu American Foundation. He released a statement stating, “Everyone has a race. Everyone has an ancestry. Everyone has a gender. Everyone has an age. Not everyone has a caste.” Some feel they left the concept of a caste in their ancestral country. Therefore they do not want to feel like an “other” with a law acknowledging the caste system.
Those in support of the bill see that, unfortunately, the caste system lives, even if partially, in the United States.
In 2020, the California Civil Rights Department brought forth a lawsuit. They filed the lawsuit on the grounds of caste-based discrimination. The suit accused Two Cisco supervisors of discriminating against an employee who identified as the lowest class in the caste system, Dalit.
Since the bill’s introduction, many people have come forward expressing their experiences with caste-based discrimination in their communities. People shared stories of fleeing a South Asian country to leave the discriminatory culture just to come here and experience it anyway. These people benefit from thethat the bill is meant to support.