Hindu Parents, Dalit group celebrate veto of California's anti-caste discrimination bill

He said that laws to ban caste-based discrimination already exist in the state

gavinnewsf Gavin Newsom | Reuters

An organisation representing Hindu parents in California, eminent Indian-Americans and a Dalit advocacy group on Saturday welcomed the decision of California Governor Gavin Newsom to veto the anti-caste discrimination bill, saying it was brought with the sole intention of "stereotyping the community".

The governor vetoed the bill, which was recently passed by the state assembly, and said that laws to ban caste-based discrimination already exist in the state.

In California, we believe everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter who they are, where they come from, who they love, or where they live, Newsom said in a statement issued Saturday.

"That is why 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. Because discrimination based on caste is already prohibited under these existing categories, this bill is unnecessary," he explained.

For this reason, Newsom asserted that he cannot sign the bill known as SB403', which was passed by a large majority by both the House of Representatives and Senate of the California State Assembly.

  With the stroke of his pen, Governor Newsom has averted a civil rights and constitutional disaster that would have put a target on hundreds of thousands of Californians simply because of their ethnicity or their religious identity, as well as create a slippery slope of facially discriminatory laws, said Samir Kalra, managing director of Hindu American Foundation.

Leading Democrat Ajay Bhutoria, in a statement, expressed his gratitude to Governor Newsom for vetoing the bill and described it as a momentous development.

During a recent engagement at a Democratic National Committee (DNC) event in Chicago, Bhutoria from California and Rakesh Kapur from Boston urged the governor to veto the bill.

This is a culmination of the efforts of the entire #HinduAmerican community, and the hundreds of organisations, temples, businesses, and allies that fought against #profiling. We rose above the lies, the insinuations, and the wild accusations - and we prevailed, Coalition of Hindus of North America said.

As California's Governor has rightly pointed out, California's law on civil rights already covers all instances of discrimination. We believe that this bill was brought with the sole intention of stereotyping Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Muslims and other communities from South Asia, said Vaishali V, president of Ambedkar-Phule Network of American Dalits and Bahujans.

Congratulating the governor for seeing through the flaws in the bill and how it would adversely impact people from South Asia, including the marginalised communities, Vaishali said the network sees the bill as anti-Dalit and a threat to their cultural existence.

While we welcome the veto, we know that nothing can bring back the life of our leader Milind Makwana who was the voice marginalised and at the forefront of the struggle against SB-403 Nothing can heal the loss and the trauma that this bill has caused to the families of the marginalised communities, Vaishali said.

Expressing profound relief and gratitude following Governor Newsome's decision to veto bill SB403, Hindu Parents said this significant decision stands as a beacon against prejudice, discrimination, and misinformation about Hinduism and its followers in California.

With this development, our children can look forward to a future where they are not subject to undue stereotyping and profiling based on perceptions. This ensures they can practise their faith peacefully, with pride, and without the looming shadows of colonial-era stereotypes and prejudice, Hindu Parents said.

While we celebrate this victory, we recognize there's more work ahead. The portrayal of Hinduism and Hindu-Americans, especially in educational materials, remains a concern. It is our hope that the state of California will address these systemic biases and stereotypes in our textbooks. True reconciliation can be achieved when education reflects the rich diversity and historical contributions of Hinduism, said the organisation representing Hindu parents.

Standing against all forms of hatred, bullying, and discrimination is our collective responsibility, it said.

Eminent Indian American Yogi Chug said Governor Newsom's veto of SB403 demonstrates the outcome of a protracted and long effort by the Indian-American community to advocate for the limitations of the original bill as authored.

One must applaud the relentless effort of so many community members who diligently made the case for ensuring that no one is singled out or profiled as it iterated through various versions in the California legislature, he said.

The key is to ensure that the Indian-American community continues to remain engaged and recognise that they have the potential to be a responsible and meaningful voice in the American political process. Equally important is to focus on this ongoing political journey with the utmost humility and purpose, Chug said.

Equality Lab, which had relentlessly worked for the bill and its passage, said though Governor Newsom has rejected the legislation for now, the caste equity movement still views this as a win. SB403 is the first anti-caste discrimination bill to have made it all the way through the California legislature, it said.

We are very proud of the power and resilience that caste-oppressed people across the state have shown in their advocacy for SB403. While it is heartbreaking to receive the Governor's veto, it is not a reflection of the incredible democratic power that our communities showed. We did the impossible, said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director of Equality Labs.

Kiran Kaur Gill, Executive Director of SALDEF, said they are deeply disappointed by Governor Newsom's veto of SB 403, which would have banned caste discrimination in California.

This veto is a missed opportunity to protect millions of Californians from a form of discrimination that is deeply rooted in our society. But we won't stop fighting for a more just and equal society and will continue fighting for California to be the first state to ban discrimination based on caste, Gill said.

Rasheed Ahmed, Executive Director of Indian American Muslim Council, said the Indian-American Muslims are shocked, disheartened and deeply disappointed to see that Governor Newsom backed down from the chance to uphold the civil rights of all Californians and make history for caste-oppressed people throughout the state by vetoing SB-403.

The Sikh Coalition is deeply disappointed to learn that Governor Newsom has chosen to veto SB403, said Harman Singh, Policy and Education Director, Sikh Coalition.

Millions of American Hindus, and people from the Indian subcontinent can take a sigh of relief, that they won't be targeted for hate and prejudice under the garb of caste, said Hindu Action in a statement.

Kudos to the California governor for vetoing the racist bill on caste. It turned an existing law against discrimination and used it to target Hindus specifically. What hypocrisy by those claiming to fight prejudice? Our pushback has finally produced results, said author Rajiv Malhotra. PTI LKJ NB   MRJ MRJ 10081103

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