Why Tech Policy Advocates Should Think about Caste Protections

Sareeta Amrute is Associate Professor of Strategic Design at Parsons, The New School and Principal Researcher at the Data & Society Research Institute.  Engraving of the California State Capitol building, 1879. Wikimedia Commons SB403 has been on Governor Newsom’s desk for over three weeks; he should sign it without delay. The bill would be the first in the country to outlaw discrimination based on caste. Its passing answers a need for protections against caste-based discrimination among California residents. It also provides a rich opportunity for tech equity conversations to expand their usual frames of reference. Caste is a hierarchical and hereditary system of exclusion based on birth found in all religions of South Asia and with analogs in other regions of the world, including Japan and the Sahel region of Africa. In the United States, people from caste-oppressed backgrounds have experienced caste-based discrimination alongside and often hidden by other forms of inequitable treatment, such as racism and gender discrimination. Yet, they have had little legal precedent by which to make caste discrimination visible. To remedy this omission, SB403 adds caste to the list of protected categories in California’s civil rights legislation.  Dr. Nirmal Singh, a physician and one of the members of the Ravidassia Sikh community in California who is currently on hunger strike until SB403 is signed, told me that the importance of this policy ranges far and wide. He described the broad coalition of those who have been working to pass the legislation: doctors, truck-drivers, convenience-store workers, those…Why Tech Policy Advocates Should Think about Caste Protections