In a significant and unanimous decision, Fresno, California, has become the second U.S. city to take a stand against caste discrimination. This move follows a growing momentum against this deeply rooted issue in North America, with Seattle already having outlawed caste discrimination earlier this year. Additionally, Toronto’s school board made history by recognizing caste discrimination within the city’s schools.
What’s on the Horizon
Activists in the United States are rallying to combat caste discrimination on a broader scale. A pivotal development is the bill passed in California, aiming to ban caste discrimination across the entire state. This bill received overwhelming support, passing through the state Assembly in August and the state Senate in September with near-unanimous votes.
The legislation now awaits the signature of Governor Gavin Newsom, which, if granted, would make California the first U.S. state to officially prohibit caste discrimination.
Understanding the Context
The caste system is one of the world’s oldest forms of rigid social hierarchy, with roots dating back thousands of years. It grants privileges to upper castes while oppressing lower castes, particularly the Dalit community, who occupy the lowest rung of the Hindu caste system and have historically been treated as “untouchables.”
While India officially banned caste discrimination over seven decades ago, recent studies have revealed its persistence, with lower-caste individuals underrepresented in higher-paying jobs. Unfortunately, Dalits in India still face widespread abuse, and their efforts to climb the social ladder have often been met with violence.
Debates surrounding the caste system are deeply intertwined with religious and cultural contexts. Activists advocating against caste discrimination argue that it is no different from other forms of discrimination, such as racism, and therefore should be legally outlawed.
Opponents of such legal measures in the United States argue that existing laws against ancestry discrimination already offer protection against caste-based discrimination. They contend that additional legislation could inadvertently stigmatize entire communities, primarily Hindus and South Asians, with a broad brush.
The discussion surrounding caste discrimination in the United States is complex and multifaceted, reflecting the ongoing efforts to address historical injustices and ensure equal rights for all residents. The recent actions taken by Fresno and the state of California are part of a broader movement seeking to address this issue on both local and statewide levels, marking a significant step toward combatting discrimination in all its forms.