regular-article-logo Tuesday, 03 October 2023

California to tackle caste bias 

The move comes against the backdrop of several US universities and the Seattle City Council enforcing measures to treat caste as a form of discrimination and provide for penalty

Basant Kumar Mohanty New Delhi Published 28.04.23, 04:42 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File photo

The senate judiciary committee of California has endorsed a bill to designate caste as a protected category in the state so that Dalits among Hindus are no longer denied opportunity or face discrimination due to their social background.

The move comes against the backdrop of several US universities and the Seattle City Council enforcing measures to treat caste as a form of discrimination and provide for penalty.


Activists and groups fighting against caste-based discrimination said caste Hindus were not ready to give up their social privilege despite education and job abroad.

The SB 403 Bill moved by Aisha Wahab, a Democratic senator in California, had been referred to the senate judiciary committee for scrutiny. The committee has supported the bill, which will now go to the Senate and then to the House for consideration.

The Unruh Civil Rights Act provides that all persons in California are free and equal irrespective of sex, race, colour, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status. All persons are entitled to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, public schools, privileges, or services in all business establishments.

The bill adds caste to this list and lays down that there must be no discrimination on the basis of caste. This bill will also revise the Fair Housing and Employment Act to prohibit discriminatory employment practices and housing provisions on account of caste.

Suraj Yengde, a US-based academic and author of the book Caste Matters, said the inclusion of caste in the law would facilitate better delivery of justice.

“Since caste is not a protected category, it impacts the justice delivery system. In the US, judges are familiar with cases of certain types of discrimination as in the law. When you are introducing a new type of problem, caste-based discrimination, they face difficulty in assessing its significance and impact on the individual. Once covered by law, the legal process will be smooth,” Yengde said.

The development in California means the US recognises the regressive practice followed by the Indian diaspora of treating compatriots unequally, he said.

Several cases have been registered in California in the past five years related to caste-based discrimination.

Anil Wagde, an Indian IT worker in Atlanta and a member of the Ambedkar International Centre, said about one million Indians, including a sizable Dalit population, lived in California and would benefit after the law is passed.

He said people cannot be denied housing or renting based on caste. Similarly, denial of job or harassment at the workplace because of caste will be punishable, Wagde said.

“The legal measures being taken in states and institutions only reflect the discriminatory Indian caste system and that is the reason the majority of the Indian diaspora, which comprises caste-dominant people, opposes these changes. My request to these embarrassed souls is to be courageous and call the problem a problem and take steps to tackle this menace of caste system and not oppose such recognition by US universities and legal systems,” Wagde said.

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