California’s caste discrimination bill clears first legislative hurdle

bill that would outlaw A cast discrimination in California has cleared its first big legislative hurdle. On Tuesday, the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favour of the legislation, sending it on to the next committee for consideration. If passed, the bill could make California the first state in the US to make caste bias illegal by adding it as a protected category in the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

State Senator Aisha Wahab, the first Muslim and Afghan American elected to the state legislature, introduced the bill last month.

California's caste discrimination,
California’s caste discrimination

Tuesday’s hearing showed just how contentious the issue has been in the South Asian community, with hundreds of supporters and opponents gathering outside the state capitol with signs. “We’ve hit a nerve and exposed a form of discrimination many never even knew existed,” said Wahab who told committee members that she has got death threats after proposing this legislation.

Between Tuesday’s live testimony and phone calls, about 220 people said they support the bill and about 420 said they op- pose it. Many proponents said they have experienced caste di- crimination or wish to get this law on the books to prevent such bias. Opponents called the pry legislation “unconstitutional” and said it would unfairly tar- get Hindus and people of Indi- an descent. Several who spoke during the hearing identified as lower-caste, but said they are opposed to the legislation because it is divisive. Wahab said the bill “does not target any specie- fic community or religion”.

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