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The California State Assembly’s Appropriations Committee has approved the proposed anti-caste discrimination legislation SB403 on August 16. SB403 was authored and presented by State Senator Aisha Wahab.
The approved version will now be sent to vote soon in the state Assembly.
California State Senator Aisha Wahab (Democrat, 10th District) sprang into the spotlight late last year for becoming the first Muslim to be elected to the state law-making body. An Afghan American, Wahab has been in the crosshairs of Hindu advocacy groups the moment she introduced California Bill SB 403 in February 2023, which aimed at ending caste discrimination in the state.
SB 403 updates California’s existing civil rights law to include caste among other protected categories like race and sex.
However, Hindu advocacy groups opposed it because they feel it discriminates against South Asians, specifically Hindus.
Wahab has always publicly said the bill is designed to protect groups across religions, nationalities and communities. It has the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, MeToo International and the California Labor Federation. In a press release in May this year, Wahab said that since she introduced the bill, she has received frequent threats, including death threats.
Earlier in July, however, SB 403 underwent significant changes when both the houses of the California Congress sat together in committee. The word ‘caste’ itself was changed almost through the entire bill to ‘ancestry’.
The amended version of SB 403, the legislation introduced by California State Senator Aisha Wahab to counter caste discrimination, shows that the word ‘caste’ has been almost erased from the bill and has been replaced by ‘ancestry’.
The first instance of the word ‘caste’ appeared in the first line of the original legislation. However, in the amended version, which was made public on July 10, reads: “SB 403, as amended, Wahab. Discrimination on the basis of caste ancestry.” The word ‘caste’ has been struck through.
A subsequent paragraph that originally read, “This bill would additionally provide that all persons within the jurisdiction of the state are so entitled regardless of their caste, as defined,” now reads “This bill would define “ancestry” for purposes of the act to include, among other things, caste, as defined.”
California’s existing law, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, provides that all persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.
This bill would additionally provide that all persons within the jurisdiction of the state are so entitled regardless of their define “ancestry” for purposes of the act to include, among other things, caste, as defined.
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