In early July, 2023, the California Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of adding the word “caste” as part of the definition of “ancestry” in the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
If Senate Bill 403 becomes law, it will be the first statewide measure to end caste discrimination in the United States – although Seattle became the first major U.S. city to take that step.
California is at the forefront of this issue
Caste discrimination refers to the biases that many South Asians experience due to nothing more than an accident of birth. Caste was part of the social hierarchy in that region of the world for ages. The caste someone was born to defined not only what jobs they could hold and the education they could have but also where they lived, who they could marry and where they worshiped.
While officially outlawed some time ago, old habits die hard – and caste discrimination seems to have followed many South Asians from their homelands to the United States. California may have been the first state to address the issue simply because of its massive tech industry. In Silicon Valley, 27% of tech workers are of Indian descent, but they’re unable to free themselves from their castes.
It’s the members of the Shudra, or “Dalit,” caste – which is the lowest – that take the brunt of the abuse. Many Dalits living in the U.S. feel that caste discrimination has negatively affected them in numerous ways. Advocates for S.B. 403 talk about co-workers refusing to share company-provided accommodations with them, verbal harassment, poor job assignments and verbal harassment that they’ve endured – all because of caste differences.
If SB 403 passes, it will give new teeth to claims about workplace discrimination based on ancestry when caste is an issue – and that may be very welcome news to many.