Petition to Outlaw Caste Discrimination in Seattle Council Gains Momentum

If passed, the ordinance, would be the first of its kind outside of South Asia, although various corporations and universities have already taken steps towards recognizing caste-based discrimination.
Seattle City Council
Seattle City Council Pic- Internet

The Seattle Council of Washington state is on the brink of making history. A petition filed by Kshama Sawant, an Indian-origin district council member, seeks to outlaw caste discrimination in workplaces within the city. While other forms of discrimination such as gender, age, race, and sexual orientation are already on the list, this move would recognize caste discrimination as a form of discrimination and make it illegal.

Although the United States has yet to acknowledge the caste system as a form of discrimination, various corporations have taken steps to ban the practice, which originated in India and binds a person to the occupation of their ancestors and comes with privileges. If this ordinance is passed, it would be the first of its kind outside of South Asia, although various corporations and universities have already taken steps towards recognizing caste-based discrimination.

In November 2021, the University of California, Davis codified the caste system as a protected category under its anti-discrimination policy. In August 2022, tech giant Apple became one of the first US companies to explicitly prohibit caste-based discrimination through a code of conduct for its employees. In December 2022, Brown University in Rhode Island became the first Ivy League institution to ban discrimination based on caste. Additionally, the Australian Human Rights Commission recognized caste as a form of social stratification four years after the Australian parliament passed a motion against caste-based discrimination.

Seattle City Council
Breaking the Glass Ceiling of Caste Discrimination: Seattle City Council Introduces Transformative Legislation

The fight against caste discrimination received a significant boost at the global level when the UN Economic and Social Council granted consultative status to The International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), a Copenhagen-based international group that works to highlight caste discrimination and advocate for Dalit rights globally.

"Caste discrimination is a widespread and increasingly grave contributor to workplace discrimination and bias faced by South Asian Americans and other immigrants," read the petition filed by Kshama Sawant. Citing data from Equality Labs, the petition states that two out of three (67%) of caste-oppressed people face workplace discrimination.

Support from outside the U.S.

Outside the United States, the Humanism Project, a not-for-profit social justice advocacy group based in Australia, expressed solidarity with Ambedkarites in the US and said, "We recognize the urgent need to address caste discrimination, and we commit to working alongside other allies and organizations to amplify the voices of those affected by caste discrimination and advocate for legal measures and policies that address caste-based discrimination."

Vikrant Kishore, a filmmaker based in Melbourne, Australia, from the Humanism Project, said, "It is good to see that a concerted effort is being made in the USA to ban caste through the petition put forth by Councilor Kshama Sawant, which aims to outlaw the discriminatory caste practice in Seattle Council. This is probably the first attempt in the USA to outrightly ban casteism. Recently, in Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission was able to add caste within its Anti-Racism Framework scoping report, which was also a first in Australia. It paves the way for wider discussions in political, social, business, and educational organizations to take the issue of caste discrimination seriously."

While the voice against caste discrimination is growing louder, the Dalit community abroad awaits Tuesday for the historic ordinance, which would prove to be a milestone in the fight against caste discrimination.

Support the Janwadi journalism of The Mooknayak, which prominently raises the issues and problems of the exploited/deprived, Dalit, tribal, women and minorities. The Mooknayak is run by your support. Click here for Support.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The Mooknayak English - Voice Of The Voiceless