Seattle became the first U.S. city to outlaw caste discrimination on Tuesday, after its local council voted to add caste to the city’s anti-discrimination laws.
Seattle also became the first in the world to pass such a law outside South Asia.
Dalit groups and their supporters have been saying that the caste discrimination is prevalent in U.S. diaspora communities, manifesting itself in the form of social alienation and discrimination in housing, education and the tech sector where South Asians hold key roles.
Tensions within the community were visible at Seattle City Hall on Tuesday as a noisy hearing culminated with a 6-1 vote with a majority of the council agreeing that caste discrimination crosses national and religious boundaries and that without such laws, those facing caste discrimination in the U.S. will have no legal rights or protections, AP news agency reports.
As council members voted in favor of the ordinance, the chamber erupted into cheers of “Jai Bhim.”
“The fight against caste discrimination is deeply connected to the fight against all forms of oppression,” Kshama Sawant, an Indian American Seattle City Council member, said.
Sawant introduced the proposal to ban caste-based discrimination in Seattle.
“We got the support of over 200 organizations from Seattle and around the country. It’s 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,” AP quotes Thenmozhi Soundararajan, author and executive director of Oakland, California-based Equality Labs, as saying.