Seattle’s ban on caste discrimination has created history in America: Indian American Coalition

A coalition of Indian-American civil rights organizations Wednesday commended the Seattle City Council for its leadership in passing the historic legislation to ban caste-based discrimination in the city.

Introduced by Council member Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), the legislation passed on Tuesday with a 6-1 vote prohibits, “businesses from discriminating based on caste with respect to hiring, tenure, promotion, workplace conditions, or wages.”

The new law also bans discrimination based on caste in places of public accommodation, such as hotels, public transportation, public restrooms, or retail establishments. It will also prohibit housing discrimination based on caste in rental housing leases, property sales, and mortgage loans.

“Love has won over hate as Seattle has become the first in the nation to ban caste discrimination. We have braved rape threats, death threats, disinformation, and bigotry. Thank you to the 200 organizations who stood with us! Thank you to the 30 caste-oppressed civil rights organizations who spoke truth to power! Thank you all who called in, and thank you council woman Sawant and Seattle Council for standing on the right side of history!,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, author and the executive director of Equality Labs.

“We are United as a south Asian American community in our commitment to heal from caste. First Seattle, now the nation!,” she said.

Prashant Nema, a member of the Coalition of Seattle Indian Americans (CSIA) said: “The passage of this legislation is a watershed moment for the South Asian community in Seattle and a significant step towards the elimination of caste-based discrimination in the US. It will help in creating a more inclusive and equitable society for all.”

“The oppressed have a fear of their caste identity being outed by members of the dominant caste, and this typically leads to social exclusion and/or retaliation. This fear, especially of retaliation, is deeply embedded in the psyche of the oppressed. It is a spectre that casts a dark shadow on their dreams and dampens their hopes. This ordinance will help the oppressed unshackle their dreams, unleash their talents and live up to their full potential,” said Karthikeyan Shanmugam, Secretary Ambedkar King Study Circle (AKSC).

He went on to say: “The whole world stands to benefit from this blossoming of talent previously stifled.”

Anil Wagde, a Dalit rights activist and member of Ambedkar International Center (AIC) said: “This historic decision will have far-reaching implications for the oppressed castes in the States and everywhere that the evils of caste have spread. We will continue to work to add caste as a protected category in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As we prepare for the work ahead, let us take this moment to celebrate this landmark collective win for caste equity and justice.”

Hasan Khan, Indian American Muslim Council board member from Seattle said: “This is a historic and significant step towards ensuring equal rights and protections for all individuals, regardless of their caste. Caste discrimination is unacceptable and goes against the fundamental principles of human rights and dignity.”

“Caste-based discrimination is a deeply entrenched and harmful practice that has no place in our society. The legislation passed with a 6-1 vote in Seattle today is a major milestone in our fight for social justice and human rights. It will not stop until we have a nationwide ban on this inhumane practice,” said Maya Kamble of the Ambedkar Association of North America (AANA).

Aneelah Afzali, Executive Director of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound’s newly launched American Muslim Empowerment Network (MAPS-AMEN) said: “Today, through a powerful movement, we helped push ‘the arc of the moral universe’ toward justice, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned, by winning the first – but certainly not the last – ordinance to explicitly ban the evil of caste discrimination. This victory is a win not just for those facing caste oppression in Seattle, but for morality, humanity, and all of us who seek to build a world based on justice for all.”