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

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

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

“My office has received many violent threats. Within the first 24 hours after the bill was introduced, the Senate received hundreds of emails opposing and supporting the legislation, Wahab told Time.

“Some of them who felt 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 pass legislation banning caste discrimination. The city of Seattle did so earlier this year in February. However, some American Hindu groups are pushing back against these efforts, saying that such measures are specifically targeted and harmful to 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 intentions want to attack her based on her last name.

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“My surname is Wahab, so they love to associate it with Wahhabism, or call me a Jew or a Talibani. Basically, every racial slur and dog whistle,” Wahab told Time.

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

Meanwhile, the United States 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.

Several cases of caste-based discrimination have been documented in California alone, including in 2001 when a man was convicted of transporting at least 25 Indian laborers to the United States under false disguise.

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

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