Seattle becomes first US city to ban caste discrimination

Seattle becomes first US city to ban caste discriminationSeattle becomes first US city to ban caste discrimination
via @obed_manwatkar
Seattle has become the first city in the world outside of South Asia to implement a ban on caste as part of its anti-discrimination law.
The announcement came on Tuesday when the Seattle City Council added caste to the city’s anti-discrimination law following a 6-1 vote in favor, prompting a fierce reaction from opposition groups and an overflow of emotions from supporters.
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Cheers and chants echoed through the city hall chamber after the council voted in favor of the ordinance pushed forward by District 3 City Council member Kshama Sawant. 
Several supporters of the ordinance chanted “Jai Bhim” (victory for Bhim), a rallying cry for followers of B.R. Ambedkar, an Indian Dalit rights icon who died on Dec. 6, 1956.
I’m emotional because this is the first time such an ordinance has been passed anywhere in the world outside of South Asia,” Yogesh Mane, a Seattle resident who grew up in India as a Dalit, or so-called “untouchable,” told the Associated Press. “It’s a historic moment.”
Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Equity Labs, a Dalit civil rights organization based in Oakland, California, said the passing of the ordinance served as a “powerful message that Dalit people are not alone.”
The South Asian community has united to say we want to heal from the trauma of caste,” she added.
In a statement, Sawant explained that the ordinance would not single out one community and that it would account for how the discrimination of the caste system had crossed national and religious boundaries.
We’ve heard hundreds of gut-wrenching stories over the last few weeks showing us that caste discrimination is very real in Seattle,” Sawant said.
While the majority of activists who attended the Tuesday deliberation were supporters of the ordinance, a few opposing groups also voiced their opinion on the city council’s decision.
C.H. Srikrishna, a tech worker based in the San Francisco Bay Area, told the Associated Press he is worried about the potential impact of the passed ordinance on the South Asian community.
“I too want discrimination to end,” he said. “But we need to first determine that widespread discrimination exists. We need more time, context and background. The way in which the council has rushed this ordinance is concerning.”
Srikrishna added that he felt his religion was being attacked by the ordinance: “When you say it originated 2,000 years ago, that is implicitly blaming Hinduism. That bothers me. I feel betrayed.”
Sanjay Patel, who owns a tech company in the Seattle area, shared that he had never experienced discrimination in the U.S. as a member of the lower caste, but the latest passed ordinance reminded him of what he thought was an outdated issue.
I fear with this law, businesses will be afraid to hire South Asians,” Patel told AP. “It will also affect interpersonal relationships if community members start viewing each other with a caste lens.”
Although the over 2,000-year-old social hierarchy was officially abolished in 1950, its effects are still felt among those in the lower caste in all aspects, such as social, cultural and economic.
The hierarchy consists of four main categories: the Brahmins (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaishyas (traders and merchants) and the Shudras (laborers). Those categorized outside the four are considered Dalits, and have always been tasked to perform specific jobs, like cleaning and waste picking.
The New Humanitarian claimed in its November 2022 report that there are around 280 million Dalits — about 20% of India’s 1.3 billion population — in the country.
While Seattle has become the first city in the U.S. to ban caste discrimination, other universities in the country have already implemented similar policies.
Some universities include Brown University, which became the first Ivy League school to implement the policy, the California State University System, Colby College and the University of California, Davis.
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