Fresno, California, has become the second US city to ban caste discrimination after a unanimous city council vote that added caste and indigeneity as two new protected categories into its municipal code.
A movement against caste discrimination has picked up some momentum in recent months in North America. Earlier this year, Seattle became the first US city to outlaw caste discrimination after a city council vote and Toronto’s school board became the first in Canada to recognise that caste discrimination existed in the city’s schools.
American activists opposing caste discrimination aim to fight against the practise throughout the US.
A bill in California aimed at banning caste discrimination in the entire state was passed by the state Assembly in late August and by the state Senate in early September with a near unanimous vote. It is now at the desk of Governor Gavin Newsom.
If signed into law, it would make California the first US state to ban caste discrimination.
India outlawed caste discrimination over 70 years ago, yet several studies in recent years show that bias persists.
Dalits still face widespread abuse across India, where their attempts at upward social mobility have at times been violently put down.
Debate over the caste system is contentious and intertwined with religion.
Activists opposing caste discrimination say it is no different from other forms of discrimination like racism and hence should be outlawed.
Opponents of such a step in the US say that since US laws already ban ancestry discrimination, an action of this type becomes meaningless and only serves to stigmatize the entire community — mostly Hindus and South Asians — with a broad brush.