Governor Newsom to Decide Whether Caste Discrimination Becomes Illegal in California

Posted by Kent F. LowrySep 07, 2023

According to the International Dalit Solidarity Network, “Caste systems divide people into unequal and hierarchical social groups. Those at the bottom are considered ‘lesser human beings', ‘impure' and ‘polluting' to other caste groups. They are known to be ‘untouchable' and subjected to so-called ‘untouchability practices' in both public and private spheres. ‘Untouchables' – known in South Asia as Dalits – are often forcibly assigned the most dirty, menial and hazardous jobs, and many are subjected to forced and bonded labour. Due to exclusion practiced by both state and non-state actors, they have limited access to resources, services and development, keeping most Dalits in severe poverty. They are often de facto excluded from decision making and meaningful participation in public and civil life. Lack of special legislation banning caste discrimination or lack of implementation of legislation, due to dysfunctional systems of justice and caste-bias, have largely left Dalits without protection. Despite policy development and new legislation in some countries, fundamental challenges still remain in all caste-affected countries.” What is caste discrimination - International Dalit Solidarity Network ( (visited September 7, 2023)

The caste system in India is perhaps most well-known, dating back 3,000 years and only recently outlawed in the late 1940s. But discrimination on the basis of caste continues not only in India, but also in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Given that many Hindus have migrated to California, it is not surprising to find caste discrimination here too.

For example, in 2020 the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (now known as the California Civil Rights Department) sued tech giant Cisco over allegations that a Hindu manager had discriminated against a lower-caste employee who belonged to the Dalit community, a group in the bottom rung of the caste system. At the time, California's Fair Employment and Housing Act did not specifically prohibit discrimination based on caste. The case is still pending.

In February 2023, Senator Wahab introduced legislation—Senate Bill 403—to amend the Unruh Civil Rights Act (which prohibits discrimination and harassment in certain professional relationships); the Fair Employment and Housing Act (prohibiting discrimination and harassment in the workplace); and certain provisions of the Education Code (prohibiting discrimination and harassment in the educational setting) to define “caste” and to redefine “ancestry” to include caste, thereby barring discrimination on caste.

After several readings and amendments to the bill's text over the past six months, the final bill was recently approved by both houses of the California Legislature, then was ordered to engrossing and enrolling before presentation to Governor Newsom for his decision. If the governor signs the bill, California will become the first state in the nation to prohibit caste-based discrimination.