Kanishka Singh, Reuters, October 7, 2023
California Governor Gavin Newsom on Saturday vetoed a bill passed recently by the state legislature to explicitly ban caste discrimination, citing existing laws that already prohibit ancestry discrimination, which made the bill “unnecessary.”
Had Newsom signed the bill, officially called Senate Bill 403 or SB 403, California would have become the first ever U.S. state to explicitly ban caste discrimination.
Newsom’s veto is a big setback for activists who had been advocating for the legislation. U.S. discrimination laws ban ancestry discrimination though they do not explicitly mention a prohibition on casteism.
California’s legislation targeted the caste system in South Asian and Hindu immigrant communities by adding caste as a protected class to the state’s existing anti-discrimination laws.
The bill was introduced and authored by Democratic state Senator Aisha Wahab, an Afghan American, in March. An earlier version of it passed the state Senate before undergoing revisions.
The revised version, which listed caste under “ancestry” and not as a separate category, was passed by California’s state Assembly in late August and by the state Senate in early September with a near unanimous vote.
The bill defined caste as “an individual’s perceived position in a system of social stratification on the basis of inherited status.”
“Because discrimination based on caste is already prohibited under these existing categories, this bill is unnecessary,” Newsom said in a letter to California state lawmakers posted on the website of the governor’s office. “For this reason, I cannot sign this bill.”
Activists opposing caste discrimination said it is no different from other forms of discrimination like racism and hence should be outlawed. Opponents of the bill in California said that since U.S. laws already ban ancestry discrimination, a legislation of this type becomes meaningless and only serves to stigmatize the entire community, mostly Hindus and South Asians, with a broad brush.