SEATTLE: After banning discrimination on the basis of caste, Seattle became the first city in the US to take such step, CNN reported.
The Seattle City Court, on Tuesday, approved the ordinance that amends the city’s municipal code to include caste as a protected class, alongside categories such as race, religion and gender identity.
The law prohibits caste discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and other arenas, and allows caste-oppressed people in the city to lodge complaints of discrimination.
The Seattle City Council approved the ordinance 6-1. Scores of people across race, religion and caste backgrounds registered to speak during the public comment period on Tuesday, with an overwhelming majority supporting the legislation. Supporters included dominant and oppressed caste workers, union members, progressive political organizers, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, among others, reported CNN.
Seattle’s council member Kshama Sawant, who sponsored the ordinance, said that casteism should not be the basis of discrimination. During the city council meeting, she said, that casteism is an insidious form of discrimination that typically operates within South Asian communities.
The caste system is a social hierarchy that divides people into rigid categories at birth, with those on the lowest rungs of the ladder – many of whom self-identify as Dalits – on the receiving end of slurs, discrimination and even violence because of their caste identities.
Though the caste system originated in ancient India and is rooted in Hinduism, its contemporary form developed under centuries of Muslim and British rule, and it can now be found in virtually all South Asian countries and religious communities.
Caste is especially relevant in Seattle, one of the nation’s largest tech hubs and home to major companies that employ large numbers of South Asian immigrants, according to CNN.
In the week leading up to the vote, several people testified in public comment hearings and letters to the city council about how caste has manifested in area workplaces and other settings.
Meanwhile, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of the Dalit advocacy organization Equality Labs, said, “This was a winning century in the making and it was really the fruition of many years of organizing in Seattle across racial and gender and worker lines”. She further stated, “It’s also proof that the South Asian community wants to heal from caste.”
Despite broad support, the ordinance faced some opposition from groups including the coalition of Hindus of North America, the Hindu American Foundation and the Vishva Hindu Parishad of America, who argued that the legislation unfairly singled out Hindus and contributed to harmful misconceptions of them, as per the report in CNN. (ANI)