Many Californians who aren’t of South Asian ancestry (and likely some who are) have no idea that caste discrimination occurs within the U.S. However, those who are of the Dalit caste have found that discrimination and harassment against them as members of what is considered the “lowest” caste in India has followed their families to the U.S.
It has limited their opportunities in the workplace – especially in businesses and industries with a large percentage of people of Indian ancestry. This discrimination is typically at the hands of those of “higher” castes with whom they work and otherwise associate. As those of Indian ancestry become a larger part of the U.S. population – often recruited for their education and skills – the problem of caste discrimination has become more prevalent.
Dalit activists have become more outspoken
One such activist says, “There are so many people that want to heal from the trauma of caste. What’s been incredible about this moment is to see these really beautiful inter-caste and interfaith alliances, groups that have all said that they’ve been harmed by caste and want freedom from it.”
Thus far, no state has banned caste discrimination. However, the California Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill this year to outlaw it. The bill is now in the California Assembly. If it makes it through that chamber and is signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (who thus far hasn’t spoken publicly about it), we would be the first state to include caste as a protected category.
Caste is still a difficult topic
The subject of caste is still sensitive. The lawmaker who introduced the bill says she’s received death threats. Dalit activists have reported physical and other harassment.
References to the word “caste” have been limited in the changes thus far made to the legislation. The word “caste” in the title, has even been replaced. It’s now called “Discrimination on the basis of ancestry.” Although the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) already lists ancestry as a protected category, the new legislation, at least in its current form, states that it defines “’ancestry’ for purposes of the act to include, among other things, caste….”
It’s certainly possible to face discrimination from those who share whatever protected category you belong to (like race, gender, sexual orientation and ancestry). If you’re facing discrimination in the workplace based on ancestry, even by those who share it, it’s important to protect your rights. Having legal guidance can help.