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After Seattle, this US city bans caste discrimination

New York, Oct 1 (IANS) After Seattle, Fresno in California has become the second US city to ban caste discrimination following the city council’s unanimous 7-0 vote in favour of adding caste as a ‘protected category’ in its anti-discrimination policy.

The development comes as the SB 403 Anti-Caste Discrimination Bill awaits a signature from Governor Gavin Newsom, which would make California the first state in the US to outlaw discrimination based on caste.

“I’m proud of our City for once again, raising the bar on civil rights protections,” Fresno City Council Vice-President, Annalisa Perea, said in a press statement this week.

“While we acknowledge that discrimination won’t end overnight, our city took bold action by passing this anti-discrimination policy to strengthen civil rights protections against caste discrimination.”

The push for the ban was led by Fresno’s Sikh residents, who were later joined by people of Oaxacan descent, the Los Angeles Times newspaper reported, adding that the two communities have worked together for years.

Tens of thousands of Sikhs and Oaxacans, many of them farmers or farmworkers, live in Fresno County and the Central Valley, the report noted.

Stating that caste is an urgent civil rights issue affecting the international community, Dalit civil rights group Equality Labs welcomed the move, saying that the “implementation of this new ordinance represents a stunning display of South Asian and Indigenous solidarity”.

“Today, in a California first, Fresno’s city council voted 7-0 to add caste as a protected category in its anti-discrimination policy. Congrats to our Californians… for securing this amazing victory!” Equity Labs, wrote on X on Friday.

Amar Daroch, a Fresno resident and President of the local Sikh temple, Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha, said, “It is an honour and a dream to have brought freedom for so many people in Fresno with this historic win.”

“There are so many of us who are survivors of global caste systems,” Daroch said in a press statement.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the Executive Director of Equity Labs, and several caste leaders have been on a hunger strike for three weeks to push Newsom to sign Senate Bill 403 before its deadline on October 14.

Alongside them, several Hindus in the state have upped the ante against the bill by calling protests and going on hunger strike, saying the bill will further fuel instances of Hinduphobia if signed into law.

This February, Seattle became the first US city to explicitly ban caste discrimination, and in January 2022, California State University became the first university system in the US to add caste to its anti-discrimination policy.

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