Caste already covered, says Newsom

Governor Gavin Newsom today vetoed the contentious Senate Bill 403 or the ‘caste discrimination bill‘. In a written statement, Gov Newsom said since California already prohibits discrimination based on “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other characteristics, and state law specifies that these civil rights protections shall be liberally construed,” the new law was “unnecessary”.

The Bill, if signed into law, would have added caste to the list of characteristics protected by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the California Education Code.

The Hindu American Foundation hailed this as the killing “of a bill premised on racist rhetoric.” In a statement, HAF managing director, Samir Kalra said, “With the stroke of his pen, Governor Newsom has averted a civil rights and constitutional disaster that would have put a target on hundreds of thousands of Californians simply because of their ethnicity or their religious identity, as well as create a slippery slope of  facially discriminatory laws.”

In a press release, Dalit civil rights organization, Equality Labs, said it viewed the rejection as a win for the caste equity movement:  “SB403 is the first anti-caste discrimination bill to have made it all the way through the California legislature.”

In a Twitter post, Sunita Vishwanathan, co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights, expressed her disappointment and promised to keep up the fight:
“Devastated that @GavinNewsom vetoed #SB403 and let down the batallion of Americans who fought to #EndCasteDiscrimination in California. A dark day for justice in the United States. Rest assured that anti-caste Americans will dust ourselves off and continue the fight.”

Opinions in the Hindu diaspora about the Caste Bill – introduced in March this year by Democratic state Senator Aisha Wahab, an Afghan American – have been bitterly divided since it first made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee in April this year. On September 29, the Fresno city council unanimously voted to outlaw caste-based discrimination by amending the city’s municipal code. Fresno is the second American city to take this step, after Seattle.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated.

Snigdha Sen is Contributing Editor at India Currents and Co-Founder & Head of Content of video strategy startup, She holds a Master of Journalism from the Graduate School of Journalism...

Tanay Gokhale is a Community Reporter at India Currents through the California Local News Fellowship cohort of 2023. Born and raised in Nashik, India, he moved to the United States for graduate study in...