Mixed Reactions After CA Governor Vetoes Caste Discrimination Bill

Reactions began pouring in thick and fast on Saturday as soon as California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the controversial and groundbreaking caste discrimination Bill SB 403, a legislation that would have added caste to the anti-discriminatory clause of state law. It is no surprise that California’s Democratic Governor Newsom has shamefully vetoed the statewide bill that would have banned caste discrimination. Just days ago, Newsom (who is a multimillionaire himself) outrageously vetoed a bill backed by WGA, SAG-AFTRA, and other labor unions, which would have given unemployment benefits to workers on strike.

This veto on the bill to ban caste discrimination is not coincidentally coming at a time when US imperialism, led currently by President Biden and the Democrats, is courting the regime of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his far-right BJP.

In fact, the Biden administration has said that the Modi regime is a “linchpin” in the US agenda in the New Cold War. And the Hindu right-wing organizations, such as the Hindu American Foundation, which opposed the anti-caste-discrimination bill, are closely aligned with the Modi regime.

It’s clear that Biden and the Democratic Party care far more for the strategic relations of the American ruling class with the reactionary Modi regime than they do for oppressed-caste and other marginalized people.

This is a setback, and it’s important activists and working people learn the lessons and understand why we won in Seattle but not in California.

As Socialist Alternative and I have said since we won our historic first-in-the-nation Seattle legislation against caste discrimination in February, we won because we built a fighting struggle of rank-and-file activists and workers, not putting our faith in Seattle’s Democratic Party establishment.

Here in Seattle too, Democrats, including self-described progressive ones, were initially opposed to our bill, some of them repeating Hindu right-wing talking points.

Seattle Democrats were forced to vote YES only because of the strength of our grassroots, working-class campaign. If anything, given the high stakes in a prominent state like California, such a fighting strategy was even more necessary.

Unfortunately, the NGOs that led the California effort failed to take this approach. They instead worked in collaboration with Democratic politicians, and refused to build a fighting campaign.

Ajay Shah, Convenor, HInduPACT and President of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) said: “When politically motivated California assembly and senate succumbed to an 18-year long systematic multi-pronged attack engineered by forces inimical to Hindus in various forms, Hindus kept their struggle for truth, justice and equality alive. Today, we thank Gov. Newsom for rejecting Hinduphobic SB-403.  SB-403 would have targeted Hindus kids in the elementary schools and Hindu professionals and business owners.  It would have led to the bullying of Hindu children and baseless and yet relentless persecution and prosecution of Hindu professionals as we have seen in the CISCO case.  I want to especially remember community organizer Milind Makwana who sacrificed his life as he fought against this Bill”

Rakhi Israni, HinduPACT Executive Director, Legal said:  “We are grateful to Governor Newsom for standing up for the privacy of Californians.  SB-403 would have made it easier for companies to collect and sell our personal information without our knowledge or consent. This is a critical issue, and we appreciate the Governor’s leadership in protecting our privacy. Governor Newsom’s veto of SB-403 is a victory for privacy. It sends a clear message that California will not stand for companies that track and sell our personal information without our consent. We urge the Legislature to sustain the Governor’s veto.”

Amitabh Mittal, General Secretary of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) said:  “Thank you, Gov Newson, for vetoing this draconian bill that attempted to harass and divide the entire Hindu community under  the garb of a non-existent “caste” issue in the US.  Congtulations to all Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain American Community members for this crucial victory.  We’re proud of all the Leaders who worked relentlessly to make it happen.  Nefarious designs of hate, divide and destroy have no place in these United States.

Tejal Shah, Convenor of HMEC (Hindu Mandir Empowerment Council), an initiative of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), representing hundreds of North American temples said: “The impact of SB-403 on the Hindu temples and culture would have been devastating. Chanting of Sanskrit mantras during prayers would have been construed as castetist act.  Today, we thank Gov. Newsom for protecting the right of Hindus to practice their religion in privacy and freely.”

Newsom’s veto of these pro-working-class and anti-oppression bills is a reminder, once again, of how the Democratic Party is as tied to the interests of the ruling class as the Republicans are. Working people and those fighting against caste discrimination and other forms of oppression need to build independent movements and fight to build our own political organizations, because the Democratic Party is a graveyard of social movements.

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