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California may add caste to state anti-discrimination laws

Protestors gather against SB 403
Sonia Paul
Protestors gather against SB 403

Back in 2020, reports emerged of a Cisco employee who alleged his superiors discriminated against him because he was a Dalit — the lowest in the Hindu caste system. The California civil rights department had filed a lawsuit on his behalf. Following this, hundreds of complaints of caste discrimination were filed at other Silicon Valley tech companies, and the issue landed in the state legislature.

Senate Bill 403 is authored by Fremont Democratic Senator Aisha Wahab, and it would add caste to the list of protected classes in the state’s civil rights, employment and housing laws, alongside race, gender and sexual orientation. Caste is an old social hierarchy system of South Asian communities that has historically determined what jobs or education people can get.

Opponents of the bill say the prevalence of caste in South Asian countries would lead to racial profiling. They opposed any mention of “caste” in the bill.

In this interview, we hear from reporter Sonia Paul who has been following this case and the bill. She reported a documentary for the BBC, and an article in Mother Jones. She'll also join a Berkeleyside event on the issue next month.

Hana Baba is host of Crosscurrents, KALW's weeknight newsmagazine that broadcasts on KALW Public Radio in the San Francisco Bay Area.