First-of-Its-Kind Caste Discrimination Ban in Seattle is Historical in...

Seattle has made history in both the US and the world by passing a measure explicitly banning caste discrimination, becoming the first major city in the US to do so. It also comes at a time when caste discrimination persists in many parts of the globe.

The policy was first introduced by Kshama Sawant, Seattle’s only socialist and Indian American council member. The city council of Washington state’s capital voted 6-1 on February 21st to add caste to the city’s anti-discrimination laws.

The legislation will ban caste-based discrimination in employment, public housing, and education. Under the new policy, anyone who experienced discrimination based on caste can file a case against those who discriminated against them, such as an employer, co-worker, or landlord. The Seattle Office for Civil Rights will enforce the law and handle complaints related to caste discrimination.

This legislation will allow those subject to discrimination on the basis of caste a legal avenue to pursue a remedy against alleged discrimination,” a city staff report said.

Many human rights groups have pushed for the explicit recognition of caste discrimination under existing state and federal anti-discrimination laws. The proposal is also relevant, as high-profile lawsuits related to caste discrimination are being filed against employers like Cisco Systems, where a Dalit engineer was said to have experienced discrimination at the hands of two dominant-caste managers.

Both supporters and opponents of the policy highly contested the issue. Before the council voted, 300 people requested to speak in person or virtually regarding the legislation. The council heard half of those people talk before deliberating and casting a ballot.

Several activists and human rights groups cheered when the Seattle City Council unanimously passed the new measure. However, not everyone was convinced that the policy was necessary.

Among them was Sara Nelson of the Democratic Party, who warned that the measure could hurt South Asians and generate more discrimination against them. She also described the new ordinance as “a reckless, harmful solution to a problem for which we have no data or research.

Hindu groups such as the Coalition of Hindus of North America opposed the ordinance, claiming insufficient research to support the measure. Many Hindu groups also argued that the measure singles out South Asians and may lead to businesses not hiring them.

But Kshama Sawant argued that the ordinance does not single out a particular community and considers how caste discrimination crosses religious and national boundaries. The measure would also apply to other forms of caste in other countries, such as the Roma people, the Burakumin of Japan, and the Bantu and Yibir, Gabooye, and Tumal communities of Somalia.

According to a 2016 survey, around one in four Dalits in the US experienced some form of caste-based discrimination, with two out of three Dalits saying they experienced caste discrimination at work. While caste discrimination has been banned both in American universities and India after independence from Britain, it still persists in many parts of the globe.

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