Now Reading
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant Introduces First-in-the-Nation Legislation to Ban Caste Discrimination

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant Introduces First-in-the-Nation Legislation to Ban Caste Discrimination

  • If approved, the city will join several national organizations and universities in banning caste-based discrimination.

A few days after Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant declared that will not seek reelection to a fourth term, she proposed legislation to create “first-in-the-nation” protections against caste discrimination. The Indian American lawmaker made the announcement at a press conference on Jan. 24. 

“The Black Lives Matter movement and the protests against the repeal of Roe v. Wade have reminded us of how endemic various types of oppression are under capitalism but also showed that the majority of working and young people want to fight for a better society,” Sawant said. 

“The struggle against racial and gender oppression in Seattle and all across America needs to be linked with the fight against all oppression, and against economic exploitation of the majority of working people,” she continued. 

“Similarly, the caste system was consciously and systematically developed by the ruling classes in South Asia and other parts of the world for thousands of years, in order to exploit the mass of ordinary people by using divide-and-conquer strategy,” she said.

“Just as racism is not the result of an “inevitable” racial friction between white and Black people, caste oppression has also been maintained by the class structure of capitalist society in South Asia and now in the United State.” Hence, “the only way to end caste, racial, gender, and other oppressions is for the working class to fight for a different kind of world,” she argued.

In a statement issued after the press conference, Sawant said her office is proud to bring forward first-in-the-nation legislation for our city to ban caste-based discrimination, in solidarity with our South Asian and other immigrant community members, and all working people.” 

The Greater Seattle area, which has one of the largest concentrations of South Asians living in Washington (over 167,000), “must address caste discrimination, and not allow it to remain invisible and unaddressed,” Sawant said. Emphasizing that “caste discrimination doesn’t only take place in other countries,” she noted how “it is faced by South Asian American and other immigrant working people in their workplaces, including in the tech sector, in Seattle and in cities around the country.”

If approved by the City Council, “the legislation will ban caste-based discrimination in our city, prohibit businesses from discriminating based on caste with respect to hiring, tenure, promotion, workplace conditions, or wages, and ban discrimination based on caste in places of public accommodation, such as hotels, public transportation, public restrooms, or retail establishments,” Sawant said. “The law will also prohibit housing discrimination based on caste in rental housing leases, property sales, and mortgage loans.” The city will join several national organizations and universities in banning caste discrimination.

Last December, Brown University became the first Ivy League school to add caste to its campus-wide nondiscrimination policy. It added a new provision to its nondiscrimination policy that “explicitly prohibits caste oppression, to underscore protections for members of the university community and to call attention to a subtle, often misunderstood form of structural inequality.”

It all began in December 2019, when Brandeis University became one of the first higher education institutions in America to add caste to its nondiscrimination policy. It was followed by California State University (CSU). In January 2021, it became the first university system in the U.S. to add caste to its anti-discrimination policy

A few months later, in June 2021, the Alphabet Workers Union demanded that caste be included in the company’s anti-discrimination policy and be integrated into its equity practices. The employees union of the parent company of Google and several subsidiaries put their demands forward in a statement supporting the lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing against Cisco for caste-based discrimination. 

In June 2020, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a federal lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, against Cisco Systems, Inc. (Cisco) and two managers for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. The lawsuit alleged that managers at Cisco’s San Jose headquarters campus, which employs a predominantly South Asian workforce, harassed, discriminated against, and retaliated against an engineer because he is Dalit Indian.

See Also

Sawant drafted the legislation along with South Asian community leaders, including Thenmozhi Sounderarajan, executive director of Equality Labs, Anil Wagde of the Ambedkar International Center, Maya Kamble from the Ambedkar Association of North America and Karthik of the Ambedkar King Study Circle.

“As a national Dalit civil rights organization that has worked with many institutions around the country to add caste as a protected category, this act is the necessary first step to ensure the rights of all Seattle citizens,” Sounderarajan said in a statement. “Caste is a feminist, queer, and workers’ rights issue, and the time has come to ensure that discrimination, bias, and worker exploitation on the basis of caste is not only illegal, but will be properly enforced throughout the city.”

A 2018 report conducted by Equality Labs shows how caste-based prejudice doesn’t seem to evade those who have immigrated to the U.S. The report revealed that 67 percent of Dalit Americans felt they were treated unfairly at their workplaces. The report, ‘Caste in the United States — A Survey Of Caste Among South Asian Americans,’ showed the prevalence of caste discrimination, not just in the workplace, but on campuses as well. It revealed that one in four Dalits experienced physical assaults, two out of three workplace discrimination, and one in three, discrimination in education

In an earlier interview with American Kahani, Soundararajan had predicted that the Cisco case will have “ramifications, not just in California but also for all American companies who do business with Indian employees, and will impact their practices in their localized offices in India.” She added that the case “is a call for all Indian techies to self-reflect, do better, and be more inclusive as the call for caste equity will not be denied.” Although caste does not operate here like it does in India, Soundararajan believes it still forms a part of Dalit and Bahujan lives. “Caste is so deeply alive in the diaspora and it impacts so many parts of the Indian American experience.” 

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2020 American Kahani LLC. All rights reserved.

The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
Scroll To Top