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California makes history by becoming first state in the US to pass a bill banning caste discrimination

Caste-based systems have existed in countries like India for centuries, leading to the subjugation and oppression of lower-caste communities by those at the top of the social hierarchy.

California makes history by becoming first state in the US to pass a bill banning caste discrimination
Cover Image Source: YouTube | NBC News

Discrimination in any shape or form should not happen. Government and authorities are responsible for ensuring that such a phenomenon does not attack anybody's prospects. Therefore, the California legislature has passed a first-of-its-kind bill to ban discrimination based on castes, as reported by BBC. This bill's primary objective is to protect people of South Asian descent who often face unfair treatment because of their castes.

A caste-based system is used to categorize people in countries like India for centuries. This social categorization leads to subjugation and oppression and of lower caste communities by people who fall at the top of this pyramid. Unfortunately, there are still people who seem to follow that despite continuous opposition to discard it. In order to provide individuals protection from that system, the bill has been passed by the California legislation, though with some dissent.



 

The bill has been made in response to the practice of the caste system prevalent in India 3,000 years ago. This system divided people of the Hindu religion into strict hierarchies. These hierarchies were Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Everyone who did not fall into these hierarchies is considered the Dalits or the untouchables.

This system, as the years went by, isolated people belonging to the Dalit caste, making it extremely difficult for them to acquire the basic necessities of survival. Though the usage of the system for discrimination has been widely condemned, there have been several instances where people belonging to the Dalit caste have been sidelined. One such incident was reported by a Dalit engineer against two high-caste Indian managers in Cisco, who believed that he was being paid a lower salary compared to other co-workers because of his caste.

Seeing the ripple effects of discrimination based on caste still in play, Democratic state senator Aisha Wahab took the call to sponsor this bill. The bill was passed on May 31, 2023, aiming to add caste as a protected category within the state's anti-discrimination laws, which already include factors like gender, race, religion and disability. Wahab made history by becoming the first Muslim and Afghan-American woman to get elected to the State Legislature.

Wahab expressed her happiness at the passing of the bill and said, "We shined a light on a long-hidden form of discrimination thousands of years old, invisible shackles on the wrist of millions of people." The bill did not pass with full support, earning rejections from five Republic Senators, who reasoned that state law already deemed discrimination illegal.



 

Legislators, in their statement, expressed their belief that this bill will help individuals of South Asian descent feel protected against discrimination due to their caste. A decision is still to be made on whether the governor will sign the bill into law. This decision will take into consideration many things like its impact as well as need.



 

The bill has earned the ire of The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), which believes that such practices have long gone from their culture, especially in places like America. They wrote on Twitter, "This divisive bill that still implicitly singles out/targets South Asians must be vetoed @GavinNewsom!" This claim has been dismissed by many Dalit citizens who have expressed that they, to this date, suffer from several ramifications on the professional front because of their caste. They are supporting the bill and want it to become a law.



 

Editor's note: This article was originally published on September 11, 2023. It has since been updated.

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