Seattle City Council to Vote on Historic Legislation to Ban Caste-Based Discrimination
This Tuesday, February 21, 2023, the Seattle City Council will vote on a historic, first-of-its-kind, legislation, proposed by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, to ban caste-based discrimination in the city. This is groundbreaking because this is the first time, any legislative body in the United States has taken a step towards outlawing the caste-based discrimination prevalent in its community.
Kshama Sawant, a Seattle City Councilmember, sponsored a groundbreaking ordinance that would be the first of its kind in the nation to prevent discrimination based on caste. This ordinance was sponsored due to the largely concealed and unfair nature of caste. Around 60 people gave their testimonies at a City Council meeting last week in regards to a particular measure, with almost all of them voicing their support for the anti-discrimination measure. Many of the testimonies were personal, sharing their experiences with caste.
However, there are challenges that come with the proposed legislation. It risks treading treacherously close to embedding unconstitutional, unlawful, and discriminatory policy that violates the Civil Rights Act. The most effective way to prevent this would be to simply reject the law or replace “Caste” with “Class” to make the policy applicable to everyone, thus avoiding any outdated colonial references.
Caste discrimination is a very serious issue in the United States. Lower-caste community members from South Asian and other immigrant backgrounds face discrimination, especially in the workplace. It is often within the same national origin or race, in groups of South Asian descent, and caste members of the diaspora. Caste has its roots in South Asia and is a system of discrimination based on work and descent, with similar hierarchical systems to those that exist in other parts of the world including Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
Passage of an ordinance in Seattle to outlaw caste discrimination is a small but meaningful step that demonstrates American society's acknowledgement of caste and its commitment to justice and equality for those who have been victimized by it. The Seattle City Council has been presented with numerous testimonies from South Asians of a lower caste who have suffered from bias in housing, employment, and wages. These individuals, suffering from oppression due to their caste, have shown immense courage in coming forward and revealing their experiences, despite the personal and professional risks involved.
0. “Seattle Must Ban Caste Discrimination” The Stranger, 17 Feb. 2023, https://www.thestranger.com/guest-editorial/2023/02/16/78864283/seattle-must-ban-caste-discrimination
1. “How India’s caste system manifests in Seattle-area workplaces and beyond” The Seattle Times, 20 Feb. 2023, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/how-indias-caste-system-manifests-in-seattle-area-workplaces-and-beyond/
2. “Caste Ordinance: Caste Clouds Seattle Skies” PGurus, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.pgurus.com/caste-clouds-seattle-skies/
3. “OPINION | Confessions of an American Caste Traitor” South Seattle Emerald, 18 Feb. 2023, https://southseattleemerald.com/2023/02/18/opinion-confessions-of-an-american-caste-traitor/
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5. “The Caste Contagion: Who are These Indians Opposed to Seattle Legislation to Ban Caste-based Discrimination?” American Kahani, 20 Feb. 2023, https://americankahani.com/perspectives/the-caste-contagion-who-are-these-indians-opposed-to-seattle-legislation-to-ban-caste-based-discrimination