OPINION – California is known as an innovator. Today, that reputation is based on technological innovation, but historically California has been a pioneer in discriminating through laws directed against certain ethnic groups. And what California did, dozens of other states followed suit.

The last time our state innovated in this regard was in 1913, when it passed the Alien Land Act, which targeted the Japanese but also extended to Chinese, Koreans, and South Asians to strip them of their land rights.

Fast forward 110 years later and Senator Aisha Wahab is making the same innovations. Her bill, SB 403, seeks to add “caste” as a separate category under California’s non-discrimination laws to target South Asians, as well as Japanese, Africans and South Americans, to deny them their rights to equal protection and due process.

Under the guise of fighting an extremely rare form of intra-community discrimination – one that is already covered by existing bans on discrimination based on origin – Senator Wahab made wild and unsubstantiated claims both in her legislation and in statements to the media and various senates to justify her discriminatory bill.


That South Asian Californians, in particular, engage in horrific practices ranging from prejudice and discrimination to torture, rape, murder, and even caste-based human trafficking.

Evidence of such nefarious acts? No.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that Senator Wahab’s district has a significant number of South Asians and major South Asian institutions. No one was consulted before the introduction of her bill, which raises questions about whether caste discrimination is a problem, or whether those who claim such discrimination face any obstacles to justice under existing laws and what real problems the community faces.

The last time our state innovated in this regard was in 1913, when it passed the Alien Land Act, which targeted the Japanese but also extended to Chinese, Koreans, and South Asians to strip them of their land rights.

Instead, Senator Wahab is not only ignoring them, but demonizing thousands of her constituents who have voiced their very real fears about the stigma and hatred she has unleashed against their children and families, and the devastating impact her proposal promises to have on their basic civil liberties. rights and the ability to work or go to school without ethnic profiling.

While we all support the advancement of civil rights and stand against discrimination, SB 403 does the exact opposite. Existing non-discrimination legislation applies to everyone. Every Californian has a race, an origin, a gender, an age. Not everyone has a caste: not according to the language of the bill; not according to Senator Wahab’s xenophobic statements; and not aligned with the California Education Standards. Therefore, a vote for SB 403 is a vote to create a law that singles out and targets a group based on their national origin or ancestry. A yes vote on SB 403 means denying South Asians of all castes and none the right to equal treatment under the law.

To be clear, this is not a “clarification” of the law or an “additional layer” of protection. It turns on its head what equal protection has meant for more than 50 years. SB 403 adds a separate category that has no consensus definition other than vague stereotypes. It preemptively declares a class of “oppressed” South Asians, leaving those who are not considered or perceived as “oppressors” of South Asians with little chance of a fair investigation under the presumption of guilt. SB 403 also has a nonsensical and highly problematic definition of caste that suggests that South Asians’ choices about who we marry or befriend are an indicator of caste discrimination. Under non-discrimination laws, no other race or ethnicity is discriminated against or mistreated.

Although several senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed concern about the bill’s serious legal implications, they appear to have succumbed to the pressure of public perception and politics and voted to move it out of Committee. And now it was put through a vote in the Senate and passed without much discussion.

No one wants to appear as if they are not against discrimination. We understand. In fact, supporters of this bill have painted us as pro-discrimination, despite what we repeatedly tell those opposed to SB 403, the question is not whether we fight caste discrimination, but how .

But California lawmakers should consider an alternative. Failure to show moral courage today is responsible for promoting discrimination against all South Asians.

If you believe that all Californians, regardless of where they come from, deserve equal protection and due process, vote No on SB 403.

Sameer Kalra is the California-based managing director of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), the oldest and largest Hindu advocacy, education and civil rights organization.

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