Caste Bill SB403 Has Been Vetoed But the Fight Continues With the RECALL WAHAB Campaign in California

Tables have turned on State Senator Wahab, author of the notorious and divisive SB403 Caste Bill, as the RECALL WAHAB committee escalates a campaign to dethrone her.

Oct 12, 2023 - 08:32
Caste Bill SB403 Has Been Vetoed But the Fight Continues With the  RECALL WAHAB Campaign in California

On a crispy autumn morning in sunny California, a historic decision by Governor Newsom to veto SB403 filled the Saturday morning on October 7, with unprecedented surprise and joy as Indian-Americans across the USA celebrated this hard-earned victory. 

This vicious bill that adamantly wanted to add “Caste” to ancestry in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, got diluted during its journey in the Senate and Assembly due to an unrelenting advocacy campaign to expose the bill's invidious motives.  Finally, it reached Governor Newsom’s desk for signature, who eventually saw the bill for its duplicative and duplicitous motives and returned the bill without signing. 

It took months of advocacy by Indian-American organizations, it took an awakening of civic engagement among the Silicon Valley community, and it took a grassroots mobilization at a level never seen before among immigrant Hindu Americans.

It required a cohesive work ethic developed by diverse organizations – whether political action committees (PAC) like A4H, multiple social groups like HSS, religious charities, and temples, or advocacy groups like APNADB, Castefiles, HAF, CoHNA, and even associations like the hotel owner’s group AAHOA that pulled this miracle out of the magician's hat. 

A stringent Never-Say-Die behind-the-scenes civic engagement, vocal social media, and voters' voice campaigns - all played a huge role in the decision.

Governor Newsom reasoned that since caste discrimination was already covered under existing categories, SB403 was unnecessary, and he would not sign the bill.

Important intervention by Senators Shannon Grove and Brian Jones

The prelude to the veto occurred four days before on October 3, 2023, when two Republican State Senators wrote to Governor Newsom requesting him to veto SB403. Senators Brian Jones and Shannon Grove argued that the bill would “put other California residents and businesses at risk and jeopardize our state’s innovative edge.”

 The Senators expressed concern that by adding the term “caste” to the definition of “ancestry,” this bill will put California on track to add the first and only explicitly racially discriminatory term to California law, resulting in the denial of constitutional rights of equal protection and due process for South Asians, and Hindus in particular.

 The pretense of neutrality  was shattered when the senators quoted the bill’s sponsor, Equality Labs’ from sworn court documents, "Caste derives from Hindu scripture" and that "Caste exists in all South Asian religions.” 

Caste Files also engaged in advocacy, conducted analyses, and wrote letters to the governor,  regarding the discrepancies in the  American Bar Association (ABA)’s resolution 513, the Civil Rights Department’s court testimonies in their Cisco court case, showcasing how discriminatory language defaming Hinduism and Hindu Americans was common when discussing Caste and SB403.

 The Senators countered claims of alleged “rampant” caste discrimination citing lack of evidence. They questioned the oft-quoted caste survey by Equality Labs stating that it was thrown out by the judge in the Cisco Systems case in 2021.

Finally, the Senators expressed concern regarding the discriminatory intent of the poorly drafted SB403 bill. Definitions of “caste” and “inherited social status" in SB403 are so overly broad that they will open a variety of interpretations and leave millions of Californians vulnerable and subject to accusations of discrimination.

In its final stages, the ridiculous version of SB403 was called the ‘Anybody can sue anyone for anything’ bill.  This raised alarm bells with businesses and brought some influential business leaders to engage as well.

SB403’s Perplexing Journey in the Assembly 

The two Senators also referenced the California Assembly Judiciary Committee's analysis based on letters and background information reinforcing the notion that Caste is associated with Indians and South Asians. 

Committee consultant Tom Clark was perplexed by Senator Wahab's resistance noting, “None of the support letters and related background material submitted to the committee suggests that caste is not part of one’s ancestry, and some seem to understand caste to be part of ancestry expressly.” 

Among other proofs, Tom Clark quoted Equality Labs in its Caste survey: "At birth, every child inherits her ancestor's caste."

Long before the crispy autumn Saturday morning when SB-403 was finally vetoed, when it was still summer, two California State Assembly members Alex Lee and Evan Low advised the Assembly Judiciary Committee that there was no hard evidence on the extent of caste discrimination in California.

They also requested an official study to determine caste discrimination in California stating that anecdotal evidence and lived experiences are "compelling," but they are not a substitute for scientifically collected data.


Bounty Hunter CRD and Civil Rights - The Fox and the Hen

Had SB403 been signed by Governor Newsom, its enforcement would have been implemented by the California Civil Rights Department (CRD). This is the same CRD that defines Caste as “a strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy” and assigns a “Brahmin” caste to a publicly irreligious person based on that person’s last name alone.

CRD, established initially to safeguard civil rights by mediating disputes between employees and employers, is now frequently entangled in controversies. California Business and Industrial Alliance (CABIA) has pointed out that the department is consistently involved in conflicts, including confrontations with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), numerous businesses, and even legal disputes with its own staff union that has filed a lawsuit against CRD for illegal contracts.

In 2012, when then-Governor Jerry Brown enacted the “bounty hunter” provision (SB 1038), it empowered the CRD to bypass mediation and directly take cases to court. CRD turned into a litigation machine collaborating with private law firms fleecing corporations in the name of racial justice and targeting dollars over public interest. 

 Minor or unintentional infractions result in lawsuits worth millions of dollars of which the lion's share is pocketed by private trial lawyers and CRD - not the plaintiffs. CRD has even tried to obstruct settlements mediated by the EEOC, depriving plaintiffs of their rightful compensation. This is a stark departure from the CRD's original mission of protecting civil rights.

CABIA called out the CRD as businesses across California are bearing the impact of CRD’s aggressive tactics that are deterring small businesses from operating within the state.

 CRD’s new avatar as a litigious machine has extracted millions from various tech companies and a record number of company headquarters in California are relocating to other states, as revealed by a recent report from the Hoover Institution. This has obviously led to a massive exodus of people and according to the U.S. Census, California has had three consecutive years of population declines.

Hostile laws in the garb of social justice such as SB403 are exacerbating the situation. A rare and powerful campaign by Indian Americans stopped SB403 in its tracks in an extraordinarily well-played defensive strategy.

 Now it’s payback time.  A Recall Wahab campaign has gathered steam and plans to dethrone the newbie senator who authored the bill about Indian Americans without giving them a seat at the table.


Abhijit Bagal and Richa Gautam Abhijit Bagal is a legal analyst at Caste Files. He is a Healthcare Analytics technologist at a managed care organization specializing in publicly funded behavioral healthcare. He holds a master's degree in software engineering and an MBA with a specialization in comparative international health. Additionally, Abhijit is a part-time law student with a focus on civil rights, due process, and equal protection of the law. Richa Gautam is Founder of Caste Files and Co-Founder and Executive Director at Cares Global. She has been active in the field of advocacy and human rights for over a decade. She is currently engaged in the field of diversity, inclusiveness, and minority rights as well as decolonial practices with Cares Global and she is a Senior Research Associate at Indus University and a Fellow of the Center of Indic Studies at Ahmedabad.