California Governor Gavin Newsom has vetoed a landmark bill that aimed to outlaw caste-based discrimination in the state.
Newsom cites existing laws: On Saturday, Governor Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 403, a measure that would have made California the first state in the nation to explicitly recognize and prohibit caste-based discrimination within its civil rights code. In his veto message, Gov. Newsom deemed the bill “unnecessary,” asserting that current laws in the state already encompass protections against caste discrimination.
Originating in India over 3,000 years ago, the caste system
divides Hindu society into rigid hierarchical groups
based on birth and ancestry, allowing privileges for upper castes while repressing lower castes.
Disappointment for advocates: Newsom’s decision has drawn criticism from those who believe that the explicit inclusion of caste in the state’s civil rights code was essential to combat ongoing discrimination within South Asian communities, even in the diaspora.
Advocates for the bill, which included Dalits, members of Indigenous communities and the Ravidassia community, had been pushing for its passage through rallies and hunger strikes, arguing that existing anti-discrimination laws were insufficient to address the deeply ingrained biases stemming from the caste system.
The clamor for such legislation has resulted in Seattle and Fresno passing similar bans on caste discrimination in recent months.
Against the bill: Some Hindu Americans have opposed the bill, expressing concerns that it unfairly targeted their community. California Republican Senators Brian Jones and Shannon Grove had also urged Newsom to veto the bill, citing potential threats to the state’s innovation.
Struggles against caste discrimination: Discrimination rooted in the caste system persists, even among the diaspora, as illustrated by a lawsuit against Cisco Systems in 2020. The California State University system took action in 2022, adding caste to its anti-discrimination policy and acknowledging the need for explicit measures to counter discrimination.
Despite the veto, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Dalit rights group Equality Labs, told AP News she still views the veto as a win for victims of caste oppression.
“We made history conducting the first advocacy days, caravans, and hunger strike for caste equity. We made the world aware that caste exists in the U.S. and our people need a remedy from this violence. A testament to our organizing is in Newsom’s veto where he acknowledges that caste is currently covered. So while we wipe our tears and grieve, know that we are not defeated.”
Newsom signs more legislation: In addition to vetoing the caste discrimination bill, Governor Newsom also signed several significant bills into law on Saturday. These include mandates for large businesses to disclose emissions, a ban on certain chemicals in food products and the approval of unionization for legislative staffers.