California State Senator Aisha Wahab (Democrat, 10th District) sprang into the spotlight late last year for becoming the 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.
Some called it winning a tough, uphill task but others called it a black day for California History after the much-debated anti-caste discrimination bill — ‘SB 403 Discrimination on the Basis of Ancestry’ — passed the California Assembly floor with 50-3 votes, on August 28. Introduced by California State Senator Aisha Wahab (Democrat, 10th District) SB 403 seems one step closer to the Governor’s desk. When the Senate passes it and Governor Gavin Newsom signs it into law, California will become the first state in America to make caste bias illegal by adding it as a protected category in the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
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Aisha Wahab to counter caste discrimination, shows that the word ‘caste’ has been almost erased from the bill and has been replaced by ‘ancestry’.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.
What you do when your boss calls you ill-fated on learning your caste? Maya Kamble learned it the hard way. “He knew what my caste was, so he wanted to dominate me as much as possible. And one day, he asked me not to touch a new tool because I was ill-fated,” she told indica. “It was a direct reference to me being from an untouchable background, and I could just remember how my ancestors were supposed to not touch things just because they were considered bad luck and even their shadow was considered bad luck.”
On September 9, several Hindu American civil rights organizations traveled to Sacramento from across California and organized a peaceful protest against SB 403, the now-passed bill on Discrimination on the Basis of Ancestry’. They called it “unconstitutional” and urged Governor Gavin Newsom to veto it. The silent march was organized to draw the Governor’s attention to the fear of the community that SB403 would single them out from all other California residents.
What’s really pushing the State of California to add the racially loaded term ‘caste’— a term that would apply to less than 2% of its population on the basis of their ethnicity and religion — to its nondiscrimination law?
The landmark California anti-caste-discrimination bill — SB 403 Discrimination on the Basis of Ancestry’ — cleared the state Senate Concurrence panel with a 31-5 vote. It now reaches Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk who is likely to sign it into law, thus making California the first state in the US with such a legislation.
Top Dalit activist and engineer Milind Makwana, who took up cudgels recently against the caste discrimination bill in California state assembly, has died of a heart attack. Makwana died soon after he spoke against the SB-403 caste discrimination bill at a city council meeting in Cupertino last week, according to the Hindu American Foundation (HAF).
Hundreds of Indian American community advocates, leaders and members traveled in car, special rented coach buses to Sacramento July 5 to be part of the California Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing of the Discrimination on the Basis of Caste bill SB 403 which without much hurdle was voted 11-0, sending it to the floor of the Assembly.