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Hindu-Americans urge California governor to veto anti-caste discrimination bill

IANS | September 10, 2023 12:13 PM

WASHINGTON: Hundreds of Hindus in the US state of California gathered to protest against an anti-caste discrimination bill, which they say will further fuel instances of Hinduphobia if signed into law.

The SB 403 bill, which seeks to outlaw caste-based discrimination in the state, was passed in the California Senate last week with an overwhelming 31-5 votes, and now rests with Governor Gavin Newsom for clearance.

Holding banners and placards, Hindus in Califonian city of Sacramento on Saturday urged Newsom to veto the bill, which if signed, will make California the first state in the US to add caste as a protected category in its anti-discrimination laws.

"Governor Newsom you stood with us in 2017 when you supported our community to ensure that Hindus and Indians are not misrepresented in California's textbooks. We ask you to stand with us one more time by vetoing SB 403, " said Samir Kalra from advocacy group Hindu American Foundation (HAF).

"We ask you Gavin Newsom to Veto SB403 so history remembers that you said no to discrimination against Indian Americans and said no to racially profiling our community, " the HAF, which is planning to file a lawsuit against the bill, wrote on X.

Sharing videos and images from the peaceful protest, US-based Hindu advocacy group, Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), wrote on X: "Gavin Newsom, we hope you see how deeply concerned our community is about this bill and its potential impact on us".

Asserting that the bill seeks to "silence" the Hindus, CoHNA said that SB 403 "is not facially neutral, allows for the targeting and profiling of Hindus and violates our civil rights".

"'Caste' is not neutral like race, religion, gender, ethnicity, ancestry and other categories. And, existing California laws can already address any claims of caste discrimination, " CoHNA said, urging Newsom to "stand on the right side of history".

The bill, introduced by Senator Aisha Wahab in March, adds caste as a protected category to an existing law, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which provides that all people in the state of California are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments.

"We want to ensure organisations and companies do not entrench caste discrimination in their practices or policies, and in order to do that we need to make it plainly clear that discrimination based on caste is against the law, " Wahab had said in March 2023.

Just after the the passage in the California State Assembly, its supporters went on a hunger strike asking Newsom to sign it into law as soon as possible.

The office of Governor Newsom told BBC that he would evaluate the bill when it reaches his desk.

Before its passage in California’s senate, the bill had cleared the State Assembly late last month with a 55-3 vote, a sign of broad support.

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