Seattle becomes the first US city to ban caste discrimination
Seattle became the first US city to ban caste-based discrimination after a city council vote.
Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, who authored the legislation, said the fight against caste bias is “deeply linked to the fight against all forms of oppression”.
Proponents of the ban say it is necessary to prevent the rise of casteism in the United States.
The caste system in India dates back 3,000 years and divides Hindu society into strict hierarchical groups.
The ordinance passed by Seattle on Tuesday follows similar bans on caste bias introduced on American university campuses in recent years.
“Caste discrimination doesn’t just happen in other countries,” said Ms. Sawant, the only Indian American on the Seattle City Council.
“This is what South Asian Americans and other immigrant workers face in their workplaces, including in the tech sector, in Seattle and cities across the country.”
Ms Sawant, a socialist, has previously spoken of being raised in an upper-caste Hindu Brahmin family in India and witnessing such discrimination.
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Some Hindu American groups have opposed the move, arguing that the ban is unnecessary because US law already prohibits such discrimination.
In an open letter, the Washington DC-based Hindu American Federation said that while the goals of the ordinance are laudable, it “unfairly singles out and targets an entire community for disparate treatment based on their national origin and ancestry.”
They argued that Indian Americans make up less than 2% of Washington State’s population and that there is little evidence of widespread discrimination based on caste.
Caste discrimination has been outlawed in India since 1948, however, discrimination continues, especially against Dalits, who were once called “untouchables”.
According to the Migration Policy Institute think tank, the US is the second most popular destination for Indians living abroad.