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California Likely To Become First State to Ban Caste Discrimination

California SB 403, awaiting the governor's signature, would ban discrimination based on an individual's caste. The law will add caste to the state's definition of ancestry under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the California Education Code.

The proposed California regulation defines “caste” as “an individual’s perceived position in a system of social stratification on the basis of inherited status.” This caste “may be characterized by factors that may include, but are not limited to, inability or restricted ability to alter inherited status; socially enforced restrictions on marriage, private and public segregation, and discrimination; and social exclusion on the basis of perceived status." This issue came to the attention of California lawmakers after two California engineers filed a charge of discrimination with the Civil Rights Department against Cisco Systems a few years ago. 

South Asian immigrants with Dalit ancestry may face more discrimination than other immigrants from South Asia. At one time, Dalit individuals were referred to as "untouchable." People with Dalit ancestry speak of discrimination from other South Asian immigrants, even though that caste system of social stratification was banned in India and Nepal decades ago. The New York Times interviewed several people who identify as Dalit. They shared stories of wage theft, housing discrimination, mistreatment in the workplace, and social exclusion. However, the potential passage of the bill is contentious in California. Some Hindus believe the caste bill unfairly targets them because it is typically associated with Hinduism, and they do not see caste discrimination as a current problem. Both proponents and opponents feel strongly about their positions. Governor Gavin Newsom has two weeks to sign the bill into law.