The Californian Democratic Party adds ‘caste’ as a protected category

7th September 2021

The Californian Democratic Party has set a precedence on the issue of ‘caste’ by adding it as a protected category to their Party Code of Conduct. Despite heavy opposition from a number of Hindutva organisations in the US (including the Hindu American Forum), activists have succeeded in persuading the Party that caste-based discrimination is a genuine cause for concern and that action should be taken to ensure that victims have access to justice.

Caste hit the headlines in the US back in 2020, when the State of California took Cisco Inc. to court over the discrimination that one of its engineers had suffered in the workplace. It wasn’t long before a host of complaints from employees of other Big Tech companies in Silicon Valley was brought into the public domain, consequently shining a light on this hidden issue. Twenty-two campuses from the University of California decided to add ‘caste’ as a protected characteristic earlier this year, which seems to have propelled a political interest.

Amar Singh Shergill, a California Democratic Party Executive Board Member and Progressive Caucus Chair, announced: ‘With the addition of caste protections to our Party Code of Conduct, the Democratic party recognises that California must lead in the historical battle for caste equity and ensure we acknowledge the need for explicit legal protections for caste-oppressed Americans. We understand that protection from caste-discrimination may be accessed under pre-existing categories of ancestry, religion, and race, yet many caste-oppressed people do not report discrimination because this explicit legal protection is not yet widely recognised. Like previous struggles to add protections for gender identity and sexual orientation, we believe adding caste protects all Americans. We are ensuring the most vulnerable know we value their rights. We hope our additional will inspire other institutions to bring remedy to the issue of caste discrimination in the US, and urge all other state Democratic Parties to follow.’

Amnesty International USA, Equality Labs and the Indian American Muslim Council have all come out in support of this addition, along with a host of Ambedkarite organisations and human rights groups.

Undoubtedly, this is great news and indicates the first political recognition of casteism within the US. However, time will tell if this will be an effective launching pad for both ideological and legislative change. One would hope that New Jersey, also a Democrat-held State, will soon follow suit, considering its own problems after a recently built BAPS Hindu Temple was found to have employed Dalits as forced labour. Yet reacting to a problem on your own doorstep is never as efficient as preventing one. It would be a remarkable step forward if other political parties from all over the US would enact this type of change before it was actually needed. This would send a clear message that caste-based discrimination has no place in American culture, and that other countries should follow suit.