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California Governor vetoes caste ban bill

Washington, Oct 8 (IANS) The Governor of the US state of California has vetoed legislation adding caste to the list of banned grounds for discrimination, saying it is already banned in the state, siding with advocacy groups of Hindu Americans who had mounted a countrywide effort to prevent the enactment of the Bill.

California will not become the first US state to ban caste specifically, which had looked possible in the aftermath of Seattle becoming the first American city to prohibit caste. The same people and groups that had made it possible in Washington state, were now determined to make California the first state to do so, triggering perhaps a domino effect into other states.

“California already prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, colour, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other characteristics, and state law specifies that these civil rights protections shall be liberally construed,” Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said in a statement explaining the veto. 

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

Democratic Sate Senator Aisha Wahab, who had introduced the bill had said at the time, “Caste discrimination against the caste-oppressed Dalits–people formerly referred to as “the untouchables” by members of dominant castes–occurs across industries and may include bullying, harassment, bias, wage theft, sexual harassment, and even trafficking. Caste-oppressed people have also been rejected from rental housing when their caste identity is discovered. Additionally, the practice of endogamy–the custom of only marrying within one’s defined social position–perpetuates caste across generations.”

Hindu advocacy groups opposed the bill had put forth the same argument: caste is already covered among the prohibited grounds of discrimination and that adding it spefically to that list put a target on the community at large. They had sought to portray it as a manifestation of Hinduphobia being whipped up by opponents of the community. They welcomed the veto as a “victory”.

“Today, we at the Hindu American Foundation join South Asians across California and the Hindu American community in offering our heartfelt appreciation to California Governor Gavin Newsom for his historically important veto of SB-403,” said Samir Kalra of the Hindu American Foundation (HA). 

“This is a victory for the civil rights of all Californians.”

“The Bill was not facially neutral. It relied on misleading narratives, strawman arguments, and a questionable survey that actively encouraged falsification of data,” said Hindus 4 America, another advocacy group.

Hindu advocacy groups and Hindu Americans individually had lobbied and pressured the Governor to reject the Bill, underscoring the community’s support for him when he ran for the White House, which he is expected to do at some stage. In fact, he is routinely mentioned among the leading contenders to step in if President Joe Biden had decided to not seek a second term, which he is now.

“Newsom will need our support and he knows it,” said a leading Hindu American, who has been a prolific fundraiser for the Democrats, to speak freely about the campaign. 

Hindu Americans — as some Indian Americans prefer to be called — are almost four million and overwhelmingly Democratic. They have also been big donors to the Democratic party candidates from local elections to the White House. Their votes and checkbooks cannot be trifled with.

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