UNITED STATES: A California Democratic lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill to ban caste discrimination, which, if passed, would make California the first US state to outlaw caste-based discrimination, posing an issue for the state’s sizable South Asian diaspora.
The bill, which was authored and introduced by Senator Aisha Wahab, an Afghan American Democrat, comes just weeks after Toronto’s school board became the first in Canada to admit that caste discrimination existed in the city’s schools, and Seattle became the first American city to outlaw caste discrimination following a vote by the city council.
The caste system is one of the oldest and most common ways that people in South Asian countries like India and Nepal treat each other differently. Lower castes in India, such as the Dalits (previously known as untouchables), are acknowledged as historically oppressed groups and are granted constitutional protections like quotas and anti-discrimination laws.
India banned caste prejudice more than 70 years ago, but new studies have shown that prejudice still exists. According to one survey, fewer members of lower castes held positions with higher salaries.
Dalit activists and academics say that this kind of recognition is also needed in the West, especially in the United States. Numerous of them have been working to spread knowledge of caste and its complications for years.
The bill’s supporters say that legislation is necessary to address caste discrimination. One of them is Maya Kamble, who uses an alias for her advocacy work. Kamble, who works as a manager at a major US company, says she decided not to tell her present coworkers that she is a Dalit.
She says that at a previous job, a manager who had given her hard tasks before finding out about her caste changed his mind. She claims that when the next big job arose, he advised her not to take it on because she was “ill-fated.”
In California, several corporate, educational, and political institutions have already developed anti-caste discrimination policies.
Last year, caste was added to the list of protected categories at California State University (Cal State), the largest public university institution in the US. In the same year, Apple disclosed that two years prior, it had changed its employee policy to prohibit caste prejudice.
The California Democratic Party’s code of conduct was updated in 2021 to include “caste” as a protected class. The workers’ union at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has stated support for Wahab’s bill.
However, caste is likely to become a bigger problem as the South Asian community in California grows. A number of people are against the law because they think that it will make South Asian and Indian groups more difficult to hire and put them under more scrutiny by the law.
Activists who are against caste discrimination say that it is no different from racism and should be banned because of this. American discrimination laws ban ancestry discrimination but do not explicitly outlaw casteism.
Wahab is now ready for “roughly a year of not an easy process” because it will take several months for the bill to pass through committees in the senate, the state senate, and the assembly, and receive the governor’s signature before it becomes law.
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