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Gill & Syed: Why SB403 Is Important For All Americans, Regardless Of Religion
"Passing anti-caste discrimination laws will be a significant step towards justice."
Kiran Kaur Gill and Shakeel Syed
September 12, 2023 | 3 min. read | Opinion
California is a beacon of diversity and inclusion; it's time we extend that promise to eradicating the deeply ingrained issue of caste discrimination within our communities. As advocates for social justice, and also as a Sikh and a Muslim from India, we are proud to stand in support of the anti-caste discrimination legislation California Senate Bill 403.
This legislation is not just a legal reform; it is a moral imperative that addresses the deeply rooted issue of caste-based discrimination in our society. SB 403 will finally end this outdated, oppressive, and harmful system of dehumanizing fellow human beings in the State of California.
Sikhism, a faith founded on the pillar of social equality, unequivocally condemns the caste system. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, championed the idea that all human beings are equal, regardless of their background or social status. While Sikhism has been at the forefront of challenging caste hierarchies in India, it is disheartening to see that individuals perpetuate these inequities even today in America, as seen in the evidence backing this bill and from coalition members.
Similar to the teachings of Sikhism, any and all forms of discrimination would be antithetical to the Islamic concept about equality, i.e., “all of humanity is endowed by God with equal dignity and no one is better than the other except through acts that benefit humanity”.
Passing anti-caste discrimination laws will be a significant step towards justice. It will legally protect and empower the Dalit community, who have long been denied integration into society by the privileged, dominant caste groups in California and across the world. This bill offers the Dalit community the agency to stand up for their basic human rights, free from discrimination and oppression. It is a demonstration of our collective commitment to dismantling the structures that perpetuate social inequality.
Caste discrimination is not confined to India; it is a global issue, including within our own communities here in America. Caste systems exist globally and often utilize social categorization systems on the basis of inherited status. Not only does it occur across industries such as technology, education, medicine etc., but it also includes bullying, harassment, bias, hate crimes and more.
Despite the principles of equality that Sikhism upholds, misinformation continues to be spread, attempting to undermine the urgency of ending caste discrimination. We must acknowledge that this discrimination exists and that some factions of certain communities still continue to mislead their own people, upholding a discriminatory system. The anti-caste discrimination bill currently working its way to the governor’s desk addresses this reality head-on and provides a legal framework to eradicate it.
The South Asian diaspora including Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims have a duty to champion legislation that advances equity and combats discrimination. Our support for anti-caste discrimination legislation aligns seamlessly with our values of justice, equality, and compassion. By signing anti-caste discrimination legislation into law, Governor Newsom will take a monumental step toward eliminating the divisive and harmful caste system from our society.
The recent passage of SB 403 in the California Senate is a triumph for all those who have historically suffered from the violence and trauma of caste-based discrimination. This bill underscores our commitment to creating a just society where every individual, regardless of their background, is treated with dignity and respect.
As proud members of the coalition Californians for Caste Equity, we urge Governor Newsom to sign SB 403 into law. By doing so, he will send a powerful message that California stands firmly against discrimination in all its forms and is dedicated to promoting equity for all residents, regardless of their caste or background. Let us stand united and make history by supporting a more just and inclusive future for California.
Shakeel Syed serves as the Executive Director of SAN. Syed comes to SAN with decades long leadership experience having led the Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California as its Executive Director.
Kiran Kaur Gill is an accomplished professional with exemplary executive experience. Prior to coming on board as Executive Director of SALDEF, Kiran was a volunteer trainer for SALDEF conducting Sikh Awareness training around the country for schools, law enforcement, and state/local government and she worked with the New Jersey Attorney General’s office to develop statewide curricula.
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