Wahab maintains call for explicit caste protections despite veto

SACRAMENTO — Over the weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a historic bill that aimed to explicitly ban caste discrimination in California. In his veto letter, Newsom argued that existing laws already provide adequate protection against such discrimination. State Senator Aisha Wahab (D-District 10), who introduced the bill, disagrees.

“I believe our laws need to be more explicit especially in times when we see civil rights being eroded across the country,” Wahab said in a statement. “We cannot take anything for granted.”

Caste, a system classifying individuals based on birth into social hierarchies, is most associated with South Asia, where the most caste-oppressed group is the Dalit community. Surveys have shown that the discrimination they experienced in their countries of origin has followed them to the U.S. A 2016 survey by Equality Labs revealed 41% of Dalits reported discrimination at school, 67% at work and 26% experienced physical violence because of their caste.

In his veto letter on Saturday, Oct. 7, Newsom wrote that state law already prohibits discrimination based on a wide variety of characteristics, including ancestry, and “state law specifies that these civil rights protections shall be liberally construed.”

“Because discrimination based on caste is already prohibited under these existing categories, this bill is unnecessary,” Newsom wrote.

At a press conference earlier this year, Wahab spoke about the need for the laws to “stretch further and deeper in protecting more people from basic discrimination,” highlighting specific cases of caste discrimination in her district at high-profile technology companies like Cisco and Google.

“The question of whether our laws are sufficient to account for incidents of caste discrimination is what prompted this legislation in the first place,” Wahab said in the statement Tuesday, “through this process, we shined a light on a long-hidden form of discrimination that persists across multiple communities in California.”

While many members of the South Asian community supported the bill, there was a vocal segment of the Hindu community who was against it, calling it an example of hatred and phobia of Hindus.

Wahab expressed gratitude toward the people who shared their stories of discrimination and legislators who recognized that a solution was necessary. Wahab said she will continue fighting “to balance power and support vulnerable Californians.”

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 510-952-7455.

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