Ban caste discrimination

Proponents and opponents of SB 403 battle for a spot to get their voices heard outside the state Capitol in Sacramento on July 5, 2023. Photo by Semantha Norris, CalMatters

By Sameea Kamal


SB 403 adds caste to the state’s fair employment and housing law, and the education code, which currently prohibit discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation. Caste is a centuries-old social hierarchy system that, in countries including India and Nepal, has historically defined what jobs people can work or whether they can pursue education. The bill, which drew some vocal opposition, was amended to include caste as a subset of ancestry, which is already protected, instead of adding it as a separate category.


Groups representing various South Asian communities, such as Equality Labs (which represents some Dalit Hindus, who are considered the lowest caste), Hindus for Caste Equity, the Jakarta Movement, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Alphabet Workers Union, as well as the California Employment Lawyers Association, California Environmental Voters and the California Labor Federation. Some activists say they are on a hunger strike until Newsom decides the bill’s fate.


Dozens of Hindu community groups in California and beyond, including three Dalit advocacy groups. The split among the South Asian community spurred Democratic Assemblymembers Evan Low and Alex Lee, who both represent parts of the South Asian-heavy Silicon Valley, to call for a delay of the bill. But they later supported it. 


It is unclear whether caste discrimination is covered under state laws. Both supporters and opponents cite the state’s investigation at Cisco, the San Jose-based networking and cloud management company. Opponents say the fact that the state can already look into allegations renders the bill unnecessary, while supporters say the case shows that caste discrimination is happening and must be addressed. 

If signed by Newsom, California would be the first state in the U.S. with such a law. It could be particularly impactful for the tech industry, where Indian workers with bachelor’s degrees made up 27% of tech workers in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in 2021. Guha Krishnamurthi, an associate professor of law at the University of Oklahoma who has studied the bill, told CalMatters that the bill serves an important educational purpose — making managers and HR departments more aware of the issue.