Governor Gavin Newsom of California vetoed a bill that would have made his state the first in the United States to prohibit discrimination based on a person’s caste. Those at the bottom of the caste system have advocated for legal safeguards in California and elsewhere to shield them from discrimination in the housing market, the classroom, and the technology industry.
Caste is a social classification based on one’s birth or descent.
Fresno, California, became the first city in California and the second city in the United States to prohibit discrimination based on caste and indigeneity earlier this year, following Seattle’s lead.
This bill is unnecessary, Newsom said, because discrimination based on gender, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, handicap, gender identity, or sexual orientation is already illegal in California. He argued that existing protections against discrimination based on caste rendered the proposed legislation superfluous. According to a 2016 UN estimate, at least 250 million people throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific, as well as in diverse diaspora communities, continue to experience caste discrimination.
Early in September, supporters of the measure went on a hunger strike to hasten the law’s approval. Many Californians have spoken out, detailing experiences of bias in the classroom, housing market, and employment. Some Hindu organizations and other critics have argued that the proposed legislation is unconstitutional because it discriminates against people of Hindu faith or Indian ancestry. Hundreds of people traveled to Sacramento to speak at committee hearings in the state senate and assembly, and the topic provoked significant splits in the Indian American community.
Newsom’s veto was hailed as a success by the Hindu American Foundation and the Coalition of Hindus of North America. They said that Newsom prevented a civil rights and constitutional disaster by blocking legislation that would have made hundreds of thousands of Californians a potential target due to their race or religion and paved the way for other discriminatory legislation.