viewComments California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoes Caste bill

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoes Caste bill

Despite overwhelming support from the California state Senate and Assembly, the governor vetoed SB 403, saying the state already protects its minorities.

California Governor Gavin Newsom Oct. 7 vetoed SB 403, a bill by Sen. Aisha Wahab that would have added caste as a protected category to the state’s civil rights code.

Newsom, a Democrat, vetoed the legislation amid a slew of bills he signed and vetoed that same day. In a letter forwarded to New India Abroad, the governor defended the veto, stating: “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.”

“That is why California already prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, 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,” wrote Newsom.

Wahab’s bill had earlier passed through the California state Senate and Assembly with overwhelming support. California was poised to be the first state in the nation to recognize caste as a protected class.

Newsom’s veto came two days after Republican Senators Brian Jones and Shannon Grove sent the governor a letter, characterizing SB403 as “a discriminatory bill that will not only target and racially profile South Asian Californians, but will put other California residents and businesses at risk and jeopardize our state’s innovative edge.”

“Knowingly targeting a particular group for disparate treatment is un-American and constitutionally impermissible,” wrote Jones and Grove.

Equality Labs, a Dalit organization which spearheaded the bill in the California state Legislature, and earlier in Seattle, expressed its disappointment with Newsom’s veto, but added that the overall movement to get the bill to the governor’s desk was a win.

“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,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Equality Labs.

“We did the impossible. We made the world aware that caste exists in the US and our people need a remedy from this violence. A testament to our organizing is in Newsom’s veto where he acknowledges that caste is currently covered. So while we wipe our tears and grieve, know that we are not defeated,” she added.

Equality Labs and its supporters began a hunger strike 29 days ago to alert Newsom to the bill. In an interview as the hunger strike began, Soundarajan told New India Abroad she believed the bill had Newsom’s support.

The Sikh Coalition also expressed its disappointment with the veto, noting that more than 45 organizations and gurdwaras came together to urge Newsom to sign SB 403.

“While we are frustrated by this failure to take a meaningful step forward for the civil rights of all, we will continue to fight for legislation that protects all communities — including the Dalit community — from hate and discrimination,” stated the Coalition in a press statement.

The Hindu American Foundation, one of the most vocal opponents of Wahab’s bill, expressed its support of the veto.

“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, HAF managing director, adding that SB403 was based on “racist rhetoric, a baseless lawsuit, egregious Civil Rights Department misconduct, and false claims about the Hindu religion and South Asian community at large.”

The Coalition of Hindus of North America said in a tweet: “Delighted to see sanity prevail in California. Thank you Gavin Newsom for vetoing SB403.  A victory for common sense, for American laws and a win for those who fought for justice.”

 

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