Will Governor Newsom Veto SB 403 To Stop The Gaslighting Of Hindus?
From Geeta Sikand, Irvine, CA
We Californians of Hindu Faith are profoundly disappointed and appalled. Despite significant opposition from many Hindu stakeholder organizations, SB 403 (Caste discrimination bill) blazed through the Senate and Assembly and was sent to Governor Newsom for his signature. To date, there has been no semblance of a debate or a discussion. Governor Newsom has until October 14th to sign it or veto it. Clearly, SB 403 will foster discrimination instead of curbing discrimination.
Intuitively, like a nice bumper sticker, SB 403 appears to be a compassionate bill. Appearances are deceiving! Its passage will make for a bad law! Being a discriminatory, xenophobic bill, SB403 will have dire consequences for people of color in California.
First, Hindus vehemently share the admirable goal of standing up for civil rights and eliminating all forms of prejudice and discrimination, including ancestry-based. However, we strongly oppose SB-403 because it is not facially neutral. It will lead to the unconstitutional denial of equal protection and due process to 528,000 Californians of Hindu faith. So, why were facially neutral alternatives not considered?
Second, SB-403 unfairly maligns, targets and racially profiles select communities. For example, persons of Hindu faith will receive disparate treatment, thereby violating the very laws it seeks to amend. It violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the US and California State Constitutions. Further, it violates California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act (California Civil Code Section 51) by adding a new form of discrimination that targets a select community.
Third, the term ‘caste’ has roots in Colonialists-ruled Indian era, a Portuguese concept imposed by foreign invaders to subjugate indigenous people of the Indian subcontinent. The continued application of this term to define American children of Hindu heritage perpetuates a historical stereotype, causing significant damage to their mental health and identity formation. Research underscores the adverse impacts of such stereotyping and bias on the youth. The paper “The Influence of Ethnic Discrimination and Ethnic Identification on African American Adolescents’ School and Socioemotional Adjustment” by Wong et al., (2003), underscores how negative ethnic stereotypes adversely impact students’ academic performance and emotional wellbeing. Similarly, “Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Test Performance of African Americans” by Steele and Aronson (1995) demonstrates the detrimental psychological effects of negative stereotypes on marginalized communities.
Finally, the question is not whether we should deal with any allegations of caste discrimination, but how? Isn’t having debates and discussions the logical approach? It is shocking that stakeholders such as many leading Hindu organizations (Hindu American Foundation (HAF), Americans for Hindus (A4H), Hindu PACT, Hindu Action Network, Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA) were not formally invited to this conversation!
In total, SB 403 violates equal protection clause. It targets only non-whites!
Caste itself is a colonial word from Portuguese word Casta – however the SB403 bill absolves all whites of European and North American descent from being subject to this category and targets only Asians, Africans etc.! This has been called out as one of several unconstitutional items in the bill by legal experts. The British used caste to mis-interpret indigenous civilization and codified it as part of divide and rule. It is appalling to see California following this neo-colonial divide and rule strategy.
It is now up to Governor Newsome to prevent the gaslighting of California’s Hindus. Governor Newsome must consider the unintended adverse consequences of the passage of SB 403. If gender identity is considered “fluid” then why is “caste” considered immutable?
(The Director of Communications, Americans for Hindus. This submission is not edited.)