HomeStop the HateActivists Launch Hunger Strike Urging Passage of Caste Equity Bill in CA

Activists Launch Hunger Strike Urging Passage of Caste Equity Bill in CA

SB 403 would add caste as a protected class to the California Civil Rights Act. Gov. Newsom has until Oct. 14 to sign the legislation.

Above: Members of the California Coalition for Caste Equity are staging a hunger strike in Sacramento, California. / Image- Thenmozhi Soundararajan

SACRAMENTO, California — The California Coalition for Caste Equity has initiated a hunger strike to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign SB 403, a bill that would add caste as a protected class under ancestry to the California Civil Rights Act.

The California state Senate passed SB 403, sponsored by Sen. Aisha Wahab, on a 31-5 vote. The California state Assembly earlier passed an amended version of the bill. The bill must now be signed by Newsom before it becomes law; the governor has until Oct. 14 to render his decision on the legislation.

If Newsom signs the bill, California would be the first state in the US to formally recognize caste discrimination. A spokesperson for Newsom’s office said that the bill has not yet been submitted to the governor. 

“As with all measures that reach the Governor’s desk, the bill will be evaluated on its merits,” said the spokesperson. She noted that Newsom has not issued a formal statement on whether he intends to sign the bill.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan is executive director of Equality Labs which has headed up the fight for caste protection. “The governor’s office has been incredibly supportive of this bill. Gov. Newsom understands that this legislation is the pathway to democracy for so many people in this state.”

“California is a leader in human and civil rights. It is very important for us to start this fast to remind the community of what is at stake here,” she said, adding that people have lost their homes and jobs and have suffered mental and physical abuse due to caste discrimination.

“People are feeling a little bit tired. It’s 90 degrees out here. But we will remain out here until the bill is signed,” Soundararajan maintained, speaking on the second day of the hunger strike.

The NAACP and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association have expressed support for the measure, said Soundararajan. She noted that other people were supporting the hunger strike in their homes.

 Dr. Nirmal Singh of the Sri Guru Ravidassa Community

Dr. Nirmal Singh, a physician from Bakersfield, California who joined the hunger strike outside 1021 O Street, said he is the product of India’s affirmative action policies for its minorities.

“As the father of two girls, it is up to me to provide a safe environment, free of discrimination. People are very afraid to raise their voices. I want to be the voice for people who cannot speak about the discrimination they have faced,” Singh, who has faced discrimination in his profession, said.

Meanwhile, the bill has received opposition, most prominently from the Hindu American Foundation, which notes that caste discrimination is already illegal under the current law. Samir Kalra is managing director at the Hindu American Foundation. “We were certainly disappointed that the bill passed the Legislature. But there were quite a few abstentions (legislators who did not vote on the bill) which indicated there is not universal support in the Legislature.”

“This is not the way to address caste-based discrimination, which is already protected by existing law,” he added. “It puts a target on the back of all South Asian Americans. We hope the governor will see that this bill violates the rights of our community.”

Kalra stated that he and other groups opposing the measure will convey their concerns to the governor’s office. Rallies opposing the measure are being planned.

This story was originally published by New India Abroad.


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