SB 403 Veto: Reactions pour in after California Governor Gavin Newsom nays caste discrimination Bill

Ritu Jha–

Reactions began pouring in thick and fast on Saturday as soon as California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the controversial and groundbreaking caste discrimination Bill SB 403, a legislation that would have added caste to the anti-discriminatory clause of state law.

Kshama Sawant

KSHAMA SAWANT, Seattle City Councillor (Pro SB 403)
It is no surprise that California’s Democratic Governor Newsom has shamefully vetoed the statewide bill that would have banned caste discrimination. Just days ago, Newsom (who is a multimillionaire himself) outrageously vetoed a bill backed by WGA, SAG-AFTRA, and other labor unions, which would have given unemployment benefits to workers on strike.

This veto on the bill to ban caste discrimination is not coincidentally coming at a time when US imperialism, led currently by President Biden and the Democrats, is courting the regime of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his far-right BJP.

In fact, the Biden administration has said that the Modi regime is a “linchpin” in the US agenda in the New Cold War. And the Hindu right-wing organizations, such as the Hindu American Foundation, which opposed the anti-caste-discrimination bill, are closely aligned with the Modi regime.

It’s clear that Biden and the Democratic Party care far more for the strategic relations of the American ruling class with the reactionary Modi regime than they do for oppressed-caste and other marginalized people.

This is a setback, and it’s important activists and working people learn the lessons and understand why we won in Seattle but not in California.

As Socialist Alternative and I have said since we won our historic first-in-the-nation Seattle legislation against caste discrimination in February, we won because we built a fighting struggle of rank-and-file activists and workers, not putting our faith in Seattle’s Democratic Party establishment.

Here in Seattle too, Democrats, including self-described progressive ones, were initially opposed to our bill, some of them repeating Hindu right-wing talking points.

Seattle Democrats were forced to vote YES only because of the strength of our grassroots, working-class campaign. If anything, given the high stakes in a prominent state like California, such a fighting strategy was even more necessary.

Unfortunately, the NGOs that led the California effort failed to take this approach. They instead worked in collaboration with Democratic politicians, and refused to build a fighting campaign.

Newsom’s veto of these pro-working-class and anti-oppression bills is a reminder, once again, of how the Democratic Party is as tied to the interests of the ruling class as the Republicans are.

Working people and those fighting against caste discrimination and other forms of oppression need to build independent movements and fight to build our own political organizations, because the Democratic Party is a graveyard of social movements.

Ajay Bhutoria

Statement of AJAY BHUTORIA, National Finance Committee, DNC and White House Commissioner (Anti SB 403)
In a momentous development, prominent Democrat Ajay Bhutoria has expressed his profound gratitude and appreciation to Governor Newsom for his decision to veto the SB403 Caste Bill. Mr. Bhutoria, a passionate advocate for his community, has diligently highlighted the redundancy and needless nature of this legislation.

During a recent engagement at a Democratic National Committee (DNC) event in Chicago, Mr. Bhutoria had the opportunity to engage in a thoughtful and constructive conversation with Governor Newsom. He took the opportunity to provide the governor with a comprehensive explanation of why vetoing the SB403 Caste Bill was the right course of action, elucidating the detrimental impacts it could have on the community.

Mr. Bhutoria expressed his elation at Governor Newsom’s willingness to lend an ear to his recommendations and ultimately veto the bill. This significant decision demonstrates the governor’s commitment to serving the best interests of the community.

He said, “I am truly grateful to Governor Newsom for taking the time to consider the concerns we raised regarding the SB403 Caste Bill. This legislation was undeniably redundant and unnecessary, and I am pleased that our discussions in Chicago bore fruit. The veto of this bill is a testament to the power of constructive dialogue and collaboration.”

He extended his thanks to the countless community volunteers who rallied together and worked tirelessly to oppose the SB403 Caste Bill. Their dedication and hard work played a pivotal role in ensuring that the bill did not become law, preserving the well-being of the community.

Mr. Bhutoria’s dedication to advocating for his community’s interests, coupled with Governor Newsom’s responsive leadership, exemplifies the democratic process at its finest, serving as a testament to the strength of unity and collaboration.

Pushpita Prasad

PUSHPITA PRASAD, Board Member, Coalition of Hindus of North America (Anti SB 403)
We dedicate today’s victory to the memory of Milind Makhwana, who will live on in our hearts for his dharma & sacrifice. While we have won this battle, the war is only beginning.

Those who wish to dismantle Hinduism will strike again — in another state, another legislature, another city council. CoHNA has fought for justice for Hindus in North America from the beginning, and we will continue to do so with your support.

A special thanks to CoHNA’s Dalit and Bahujan leaders, who have lead the multi-year fight from the vanguard. CoHNA has been at the forefront this issue for many years now, starting with the first-ever public rebuttal about the Cisco lawsuit in January 2021 before any other organization.

Since then we have organized many talks (including one from Sundar Iyer, the ‘accused’ in the Cisco case), information sessions and workshops for children and adults. We have educated lawmakers at all levels about the issue of caste. We have worked to raise awareness and to make Hindu voices be heard loudly!

From the first rally outside Senator (Aisha) Wahab’s office in Fremont to the last protest in Sacramento, our Dharma Yoddhas have worked tirelessly to make this outcome possible! We thank our fearless volunteers and acknowledge the collective blood and sweat they have poured to the cause.

Samir Kalra

SAMIR KALRA, Managing Director, Hindu American Foundation (Anti SB 403)
Today, we at the Hindu American Foundation join South Asians across California and the Hindu American community in offering our heartfelt appreciation to California Governor Gavin Newsom for his historically important veto of SB-403. This is a victory for the civil rights of all Californians.

With the stroke of his pen, Governor Newsom has averted a civil rights and constitutional disaster that would have put a target on hundreds of thousands of Californians simply because of their ethnicity or their religious identity, as well as create a slippery slope of facially discriminatory laws.

We thank Governor Newsom for listening to the thousands of voices that contacted his office and seeing that SB-403 was premised on racist rhetoric, a baseless lawsuit, egregious Civil Rights Department misconduct, false claims about the Hindu religion and South Asian community at large, and the self-serving, methodologically flawed, caste survey by Equality Labs.

We thank political leaders of both parties, in all levels of government, who demonstrated moral courage in opposing this racist bill. Whether by passing local resolutions opposing discriminatory legislation, working with HAF to remove facially discriminatory language, outright voting against the bill or vetoing SB-403 — we will never forget that you defended the Hindu and South Asian communities at a critical moment in California history.”

Amar Shergill
Amar Shergill

AMAR SHERGILL, Member, Executive Board, California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus (Pro SB 403)

Although we are disappointed in the Governor’s veto, make no mistake that, through our advocacy, we have lifted caste discrimination as an issue and there is a new consensus from national legal organizations to local city councils; caste discrimination is illegal in California. After seeing the strength of our program, even our most aggressive opponents were forced to admit that caste discrimination is an issue in California that is covered under existing law. There are no more legal loopholes for caste discriminators to try to sneak through.

“For the first time, a US Governor has stated clearly that caste discrimination is banned in a US state,” Amar Shergill.

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