Ban on caste discrimination considered by California

On Wednesday, a California senator introduced a bill that would make caste discrimination illegal. If passed, California, home to some of the world's largest tech companies, will become the first state in the United States to prohibit caste-based discrimination.

The bill was authored and introduced by Democratic Senator Aisha Wahab, who proposed adding caste to California's anti-discrimination laws alongside gender, race, and disability. A month earlier, Seattle became the first city in the United States to ban caste-based discrimination following a vote by the city council.

Ms. Wahab represents a district in northern California with a large population of South Asians, many of whom are employed by technology companies. The Afghan-American lawmaker, who was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area by an American couple after the death of her parents, says that although she has not personally experienced caste discrimination, she understands it due to her upbringing. She mentioned to sources that her friends have told her that the reason their parents immigrated to the US was that their families disapproved of their belonging to different castes. 

In South Asian countries, including India and Nepal, the caste system is one of the oldest surviving forms of social discrimination. In India, Dalits (formerly untouchables) and other lower castes are viewed as historically disadvantaged groups and are afforded constitutional protections through quotas and anti-discrimination laws.

Dalit activists and academics assert that such recognition is also required in the West, particularly in the United States. Many of them have worked there for years to raise awareness of the complexities of caste.

In recent years, the country's tech industry has struggled with this issue. In 2020, California regulators filed a lawsuit against Cisco Systems based on a claim that a Dalit Indian engineer was subjected to caste discrimination at the company's Silicon Valley headquarters. The following year, Google News senior manager Tanuja Gupta resigned after the company canceled an invitation to Dalit rights activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan to speak to employees.

According to the founder of a civil rights organization, Ms. Soundararajan, the events demonstrate that Californians deserve discrimination-free workplaces and educational institutions. According to the bill's proponents, caste discrimination requires a legislative remedy.

Maya Kamble, who uses a pseudonym for her advocacy work, is a manager at a large U.S. company and has decided not to disclose her Dalit status to her current coworkers. She claims that at a former workplace, a manager who once entrusted her with challenging tasks changed his attitude after discovering her caste. She claims that he advised her to avoid the next major project because she was "ill-fated." She said that it was a huge shock for her and her colleagues. She added that she would have filed a complaint if there had been a law against caste discrimination.

Several Californian educational, corporate, and political institutions have already formulated anti-caste discrimination policies. The California Democratic Party's code of conduct included caste as a protected category in 2021. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has issued a statement in support of Ms. Wahab's bill. However, as the South Asian population in California continues to grow, caste is likely to become a more significant problem.