HomeAsian AmericansNewsom vetoes California bill to ban caste discrimination

Newsom vetoes California bill to ban caste discrimination

On Saturday, Politico reported that California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have made California the first state in the U.S. to explicitly ban caste discrimination, calling it “unnecessary.”

Over a month ago, California’s legislature approved Bill 403 with a 31-5 vote in the State Senate and a 55-3 vote in the State Assembly.

Even though the bill passed both houses above the 2/3’s needed to override Newsom’s veto, California’s legislator’s haven’t tried to override a veto in decades.

Bill 403 took a more moderate stance than making caste protected class in state law, alongside race, color, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, ancestry, and other classes named in state law. Instead, it explicitly recognizes caste under the preexisting category of ancestry.

Bill 403 was introduced first-term State Senator Aisha Wahab, California’s first Muslim congressperson, who spearheaded the effort to pass the bill through the legislature. The bill is her first major legislative push.

In rejecting the bill as “unnecessary,” Newsom interpreted the law to mean that caste is already protected under the mention of ancestry, without explicit mention—but for proponents of the bill, this isn’t enough. For instance, such an interpretation might require plaintiffs alleging caste discrimination to first prove the discrimination falls under the protected category of ancestry.

Newsom’s veto comes after a hunger strike aimed to pressure him to sign. The bill has divided the South Asian American community, along lines based on religion, partisan affiliation and opinions on the politics of the subcontinent.

Much opposition to the bill has been tied to Hindu nationalist politics, also called Hindutva. That opposition has often been loosely organized around the Sangh Parivar, a family of organizations inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a far-right Hindu nationalist organization implicated in human rights violations, according to the Human Rights Watch.

One important part of the Sangh Parivar is Indian PM Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, but so are some of the Hindu American groups opposed to Bill 403, including the Hindu American Foundation and the Coalition of Hindus of North America. Both groups intensely lobbied legislators and the governor to block the bill, and threatened to sue if it became law.

Many Hindu American opponents of the bill allege that it will stigmatize South Asians, and especially upper-caste practicing Hindus, as uniquely inclined to discriminate.

Others objected on the basis that caste is part of their religion, and making caste discrimination illegal would restrict their right to freely exercise their religion. But that argument is on tough legal ground.

Landmark desegregation cases in the Supreme Court like Bob Jones University v. United States sharply limited religious rights’ ability to justify otherwise-illegal discrimination. If caste discrimination is already seen as illegal under the current law, religious rights don’t necessarily allow it.

Earlier this year, Seattle became the first city to pass a law banning caste discrimination, followed by Fresno becoming the first city in California to institute a ban.

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  1. As a South Asian American, I stand firmly rooted in the anti-colonial, anti-discriminatory, egalitarian, and nonviolent spirit advanced by Gandhi, and before him, Buddha. The best of our religious traditions, including Hinduism, promotes radical equality. The caste system is horrible – millennia of horrible abuse, which offends moral conscience as well as the law, both here and in India – officially. But discrimination still goes on. I undertand that some Indians don’t want to get tagged as “inherently discriminatory” – of course not. But how do we hold ourselves to our OWN highest standards? I understand, again, how it’s hard to be scrutinized by the dominant culture in America’s legal system – I mean – get your OWN house in order too, amirite? But a rising tide lifts all boats. We have to challenge abusive systems. And I’ve often said that dealing with racism in America is like “training wheels” for dealing with caste and gender discrimination in India.

    You might like this article and the accompanying presentation, which is also available as a podcast, linked in references. Part 4 of a four-part series on trauma and healing.

    MOSF 18.10: Treating America’s #1 Addiction: Abusive Power https://eastwindezine.com/mosf-18-10-treating-americas-1-addiction-abusive-power/


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