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Death of top Dalit activist leaves community in shock

New York, July 24 (IANS) Top Dalit activist and engineer Milind Makwana, who took up cudgels against the caste discrimination bill in California state assembly, has died of a heart attack.

Makwana died soon after he spoke against the SB-403 caste discrimination bill at a city council meeting in Cupertino last week, according to the Hindu American Foundation (HAF).

“Milind Makwana was kind, principled, humble and hardworking. He left us doing what he loved – serving dharma and our community. Just minutes before his last few breaths, he testified to #SayNotoSB403,” Suhag A. Shukla, co-founder of HAF, tweeted.

In a video of the Cupertino city Council meeting shared by Shukla, Makwana is seen as calling himself a “proud Hindu”.

“I am from a marginalized community and I am a proud Hindu. So whoever is claiming here to represent us but ignoring Hindus, are talking about us without us,” Makwana said speaking against the bill.

“Today we mourn the loss of Shri Milind Makwana, a man who inspired many in the Hindu community to fight for #Dharma. Some of us in the Bay Area had the privilege of working with, and learning from him,” the Coalition of Hindus of North America wrote in a tweet.

“Milind ji had boundless passion and energy for #Hinduism, and his indefatigable spirit kept so many of us striving to do more. He refused attempts to label him and his last words were a plea for the voices of the marginalized to be heard,” the tweet added.

“Sad and shocked to learn of the passing of Milind Makwana. While I only knew him through social media, he was a friendly, courageous soul who spoke up for Hinduism and Dharma in the San Francisco Bay Area,” Hindu-American activist Sheenie Ambardar wrote.

Born and raised in Mumbai, Makwana started his journey in the US in 2006 as a technology professional in Rochester, New York.

He was also an active Sewa volunteer, participating in various service activities and fundraising events.

The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, USA, said in a statement that Makwana “became highly alert and concerned by California’s SB403 Bill, “Discrimination on the basis of ancestry”, that unjustly branded the Hindu-American community based on the castes”.

Introduced by California Senator Aisha Wahab, SB-403 adds caste as a protected category to an existing law, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which provides that all people in the state of California are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services Hindus across the US, including Makwana, have expressed strong opposition to SB-403, which they say would specifically add “caste” to California non-discrimination policy.

“SB-403 unfairly maligns, targets and racially profiles select communities on the basis of their national origin, ethnicity and ancestry for disparate treatment, thereby violating the very laws it seeks to amend, the Unruh Civil Rights Act. It further violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the US and California State Constitutions,” according to an HAF statement.

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