California governor vetoes bill to ban racial discrimination

Oct 7 (Reuters) – California Governor Gavin Newsom on Saturday vetoed a bill recently passed by the state legislature to explicitly ban race discrimination, citing existing laws that already prohibit race discrimination. , which made the bill “unnecessary”.

Had Newsom signed the bill, officially called Senate Bill 403 or SB 403, California would have become the first US state to explicitly ban race discrimination.

Newsom’s veto is a major blow to the activists who were advocating for this legislation. US discrimination laws ban race discrimination, although they do not explicitly mention a ban on racism.

The California law targeted the caste system in South Asian and Hindu immigrant communities by adding caste as a protected class to the state’s existing anti-discrimination laws.

The bill was introduced and authored in March by Democratic state Senator Aisha Wahab, an Afghan American. An earlier version of it passed the state Senate before amendments.

The amended version, which listed race under “ancestry” rather than as a separate category, was passed almost unanimously by the California State Assembly in late August and by the State Senate in early September.

The bill defines caste as “the perceived position of a person in a system of social stratification based on inherited status”.

“Since discrimination based on race is already prohibited under these existing categories, this bill is unnecessary,” Newsom said in a letter to California state lawmakers posted on the governor’s office website. “For this reason, I cannot sign this bill.”

Activists opposing caste discrimination said that it is no different from other forms of discrimination such as racism and should therefore be outlawed. Opponents of the bill in California said that since US laws already ban race discrimination, this type of law becomes redundant and only serves to stigmatize the entire community, mostly Hindus and South Asians.

Before Newsom’s veto, the movement to fight racial discrimination in North America had gathered energy in recent months.

Earlier this year, Seattle became the first U.S. city to outlaw racial discrimination following a City Council vote, and Toronto’s school board became the first in Canada to acknowledge that racial discrimination exists in the city’s schools.

Also in California, Fresno became the second US city to ban race discrimination after a unanimous city council vote last month.

This issue is especially important for Indian-Americans and Hindus. As greater numbers of Indians and South Asians have moved to the US, particularly California and Silicon Valley, some of America’s largest technology companies have also faced the issue of caste discrimination.

Many US tech companies are also led by leaders of Indian origin such as Alphabet (GOOGL.O) CEO Sundar Pichai, Microsoft (MSFT.O) CEO Satya Nadella and IBM (IBM.N) CEO Arvind Krishna.

The caste system is one of the oldest forms of rigid social stratification in the world. It is thousands of years old and gives many privileges to the upper castes but oppresses the lower castes. The Dalit community is at the lowest rung of the Hindu caste system; Members have been treated like “untouchables”.

India outlawed caste discrimination 70 years ago, yet several studies in recent years show that prejudice persists. One study found that lower caste people were under-represented in high-paying jobs.

Dalits still face widespread abuses across India, where their efforts to increase social mobility have at times been violently crushed.

The debate over the caste system in India and abroad is controversial and linked to religion. Some say discrimination is now rare, especially outside India. Indian government policies to reserve seats for lower caste students in top Indian universities have helped many land technical jobs in the West in recent years.

(This story has been revised to correct the spelling of ‘existing’ in paragraph 1)

Kanishk Singh reporting in Washington; Editing by Grant McCullum

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Kanishk Singh is a breaking news reporter for Reuters in Washington DC, covering primarily US politics and national affairs in his current role. His previous breaking news coverage spans a range of topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement; US elections; The 2021 Capitol riots and their subsequent investigation; Brexit deal; US-China trade tensions; NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan; COVID-19 pandemic; and a 2019 Supreme Court decision on a religious dispute site in his native India.

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