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US: California lawmaker faces Islamophobic attacks for introducing anti-caste bill

Aisha Wahab says her office has received hundreds of emails and dozens of hateful calls after introducing the legislation last month
Aisha Wahab proposes a bill which adds caste as a protected category in the state’s anti-discrimination laws, in Sacramento, California on 22 March 2023
Aisha Wahab is a Democratic member of California's state senate (AP)

A US state senator in California has said she is facing a wave of Islamophobic hate messages and threats after she introduced an anti-caste discrimination bill.

Aisha Wahab, a Democratic member of California's state senate, said in an interview with Time Magazine last week that her office received dozens of calls, hundreds of emails, and some people even came to her office and yelled at staff members.

“My office has received a lot of violent threats. Within the first 24 hours of introducing the bill, the Senate received hundreds of emails in opposition to and in support of the legislation, Wahab told Time.

"Some who felt very strongly came into our district office and tried to intimidate our staff by talking about the Mughal Empire, which is several hundred years old.”

If the bill is approved, California will become the first state to adopt legislation banning caste discrimination. The city of Seattle did so earlier this year in February. However, several Hindu American groups have pushed back on these efforts, saying that such measures specifically target and malign their community.

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Wahab, who was born to refugees who fled Afghanistan in the 1980s, told the news magazine that many people with Islamophobic intent like to attack her based on her last name.

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“My last name is Wahab, so they love to tie it to Wahhabism, or call me a jihadist or a Talibani. Basically, every racial slur and dog whistle,” Wahab told Time.

Caste discrimination has been banned in India since 1948, but the bias still persists. Studies in recent years have shown that people from lower castes are underrepresented in higher-paying jobs.

The US, meanwhile, is the second most popular destination for Indians living abroad, according to the Migration Policy Institute. In 2021, the estimated population of the Indian diaspora in the US was 2.7 million people.

There have been several instances of caste-based discrimination documented in California alone, including in 2001 when a man was convicted of transporting at least 25 Indian labourers to the US under false pretence.

A 2018 survey by the Dalit civil rights organisation, Equality Labs, found that one in four Dalits in the US say they have faced verbal or physical assault at work.

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