- Several organizations and communities in the state came together under the aegis of America Against Caste Discrimination to disapprove claims by opponents that the bill is discriminatory toward people of Indian origin.
A broad-based coalition of Indian Americans launched a campaign this week in support of SB403, the California bill that aims to add caste as a protected category to the Unruh Civil Rights Act which provides protection from discrimination by all business establishments in the state, including housing and public accommodations, because of age, ancestry, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation.
Over 21 organizations and communities in the state came together under the aegis of America Against Caste Discrimination on June 25 to “disapprove claims by opponents that the bill is discriminatory toward people of Indian origin,” organizers said in a press release. “Asserting that caste discrimination is rampant in the U.S. speakers, community members, and those harmed by caste discrimination present at the event rejected attempts by opponents of the bill to downplay the prevalence of caste discrimination,” the press release said. They also attacked California assembly members Evan Low and Alex Lee “for attempting to delay the bill by calling for more research, and for trying to reduce caste to discrimination on the basis of ancestry.”
Speakers included Seattle Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, who led a similar bill to victory in the city council; Dr. Roja Suganthy-Singh, president of Dalit Solidarity Forum, the oldest Dalit rights organization in the U.S.; Prof. Veena Dubal of the University of California College of Law, San Francisco; and Raju Rajagopal, co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights.
On June 20, Low and Lee issued a letter calling for an “official search” into the prevalence of the problem. They also suggested amendments relegating caste to an additional component under the existing protected category of ancestry. “The voices of Californians harmed by caste discrimination cannot be ignored, and it is reprehensible that opponents of the bill are seeking to dismiss our voices and our pain.
Speaking at the launch, Sawant noted that “Democrats in the California Legislature are shamefully bending to pressures from the Hindu right wing, and attempting to weaken, indefinitely stall, and even eliminate SB403, the release said.” If passed, “this is the bill that would follow Seattle’s February victory and ban caste-based discrimination statewide,” she said. “This shows the need for caste-oppressed community members, working people, and union members to urgently fight back.”
Rajagopal expressed his organization’s commitment to working with all the members of AACD in securing a legal foundation to ending caste discrimination in California, and elsewhere in America. “We are proud to add a progressive Hindu voice to the call to annihilate caste, even as we acknowledge the role of our dominant caste forebears in architecting and practicing the monstrous system of caste hierarchy and deep-seated bigotry against fellow human beings.”
Ram Kumar, president of Ambedkar International Center noted that Low and Lee “must realize that they are enabling the continuance of this harm, and acting in defense of one of the cruelest and most prevalent forms of injustice in existence today.”