On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council voted 6-1 to cover caste as a protected category in the city’s anti-discrimination laws, as the first city in the United States to rule on this.
In the run-up to the election, Kshama Sawant, the only Indian American on the Council of Seattle City and member of the Socialist Alternative party, circulated a petition stating that “caste discrimination remains a largely hidden and unreported issue.”
The petition reads. “Caste discrimination is a huge contributor to discrimination at the workplace and bias faced by South Asian Americans and other immigrants, but in Seattle and across the United States.”
According to the ordinance passed on Tuesday, “The majority of the affected communities live or arise in South Asia, along with India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, many of whom are known by the identity of ‘Dalits,’ that indicates the ones who are resilient however not broken.’ Others are indigenous or forced into slavery community members.”
The ordinance did face significant opposition from Seattle residents, with the Hindu American Foundation claiming that voting yes constitutes “discrimination against ethnic minorities.”
“Through most of existence in years, HAF has retained that caste discrimination is wrong, contravening the core Hindu principles of the divine oneness of all beings.”
Suhag Shukla, Executive Director of the Hindu American Foundation, said, “We maintain that singling out South Asians and adding ‘caste’ to non-discrimination policy violates the policies it now amends.”
Only a few colleges in the United States, including the California State University System, Brown University, and Brandeis University, have added caste to their anti-discrimination policies.
Sawant described Tuesday’s ordinance as a “historic, first-in-the-nation ban” that would be replicated elsewhere. “Now we must build a movement to spread this victory across the country,” she wrote on Twitter.