Seattle has become the first city in the US to ban discrimination based on caste, following a city council vote on Tuesday.” It’s official: our movement has won a historic, first-in-the-nation ban on caste discrimination in Seattle!” tweeted Indian American council member Kshama Sawant, who introduced the legislation. “ Now we need to build a movement to spread this victory around the country.”
The city council of Seattle, in the northwest state of Washington, voted 6-1 in favor of the ban, which applies to employment, housing, public transport & retail establishments. Council member Sara Nelson cast the sole vote against the ordinance, citing her fear of potential litigation from employers, the report said. Hours ahead of the vote, Indian American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal lent her support to the move.
India banned caste discrimination in 1948 & enshrined the policy in the Constitution in 1950. While the U S has never formally recognized the caste system, South Asians have faced discrimination within workplaces & higher education, with a growing number of organizations working to recognize & combat casteism in recent years
“Caste discrimination doesn’t only take place in other countries. It is faced by South Asian American & other immigrant working people in their workplaces, including in tech sector, in Seattle & in cities around the country,“ said Sawant, when her office introduced the legislation in January. “ With over 167, 000 people from South Asia living in Washington, largely concentrated in the Greater Seattle area, the region must address caste discrimination, & not allow it to remain invisible & unaddressed,” she said.
In California’s Silicon Valley, tech giant Cisco is facing a caste discrimination lawsuit brought by a former worker, who alleged bias against him due to his low caste status.
Dalit rights groups have lauded the ban. “Love has won over hate as Seattle has become first in the nation to ban caste discrimination,“ tweeted Thenmozhi Sounderrajan, director of Dalit rights group Equality Labs. “ We have braved rape threats, death threats, disinformation & bigotry.”
The Hindu American Foundation, however, voiced opposition to Seattlle’s move, arguing it singles out the South Asian community. The foundation” has maintained that caste discrimination is wrong…. at the same time, we maintain that the singling out of South Asians & addition of ‘ caste’ to non-discrimination policy violates the very policies it now amends,” co-founder Suhas Shukla said.