Seattle forbids Caste Discrimination, Becomes First U.S. City to Initiate the move

The Seattle city council issues regulatory orders to ban casteism prevailing across the city. The city creates history by taking the move for the first time in the US. This anti-discrimination movement in Seattle got negative reviews from some Hindu Americans who argue that such legislation defames a specific community. Know the origin of the caste system and more. 

Seattle orders to prohibit caste discrimination across the city
Seattle orders to prohibit caste discrimination across the city

Anti-Caste Movement in Seattle

The Seattle City Council took the decision to add caste to the city’s anti-discrimination laws on February 21, 2023 (Tuesday). Seattle now becomes the first city in the United States to instigate such prohibition on the basis of caste. 

There has been discord among the South Asian diaspora communities across the nation based on birth or descent which has increased over time. Hence in order to eradicate such bigotry beliefs and practices, the committee implemented a ban. However, this anti-caste movement is getting repulsive reactions from the Hindu American Foundation and the Coalition of Hindus of North America groups who asserted that such legislation is baleful for a particular community.

Ordinance Issued by Seattle City Council

The Seattle City Council mandates the prohibition of caste-based discrimination and related practices across the city. It is the first city in the U.S. to take this initiative. The ordinance was approved by a 6-1 vote on February 21, 2023 (Tuesday). The supporters of the edict said that caste discrimination crosses national and religious boundaries and it is important to implement such laws for the protection of those facing caste discrimination in the country.

Also, this is a very controversial issue, especially among the nation's South Asian diaspora. Supporters argue that it is an immediate need as caste is not covered under existing civil rights protections. Those groups who oppose the order claim that it will malign a community that is already the target of prejudice.



Activists and Socialists

Council Member Kshama Sawant, a Socialist as well as the only Indian American on the City Council, stated that the legislation proposed by her is not specifically for one community but it accounts for how caste discrimination is widespread across national and religious boundaries.

She further tweeted that this historic movement is the first of its kind in the city and now the victory should reach all around the country. 

Before the city council meeting, various activists holding different perspectives on the issue arrived in Seattle city. About a week ago, over 100 people requested to speak up at the meeting. Activists gathered outside the City Hall as they seek a chance to speak to the council before the vote. However, public comment at the meeting was not allowed. 

Origin & Role of Caste System

The caste system is a social hierarchical structure that shows a person’s status in society. The origins of the caste system in India and the related theories can be found as many as 3,000 years ago based on one’s occupation and birth. This system has evolved over the centuries and has been shaped tremendously during the Mughal empire and British Rule. Casteism plagues many societies across the globe. 

Talking about those who lie at the rock bottom of the caste pyramid referred to as Dalits, their sufferings have continued over time. Caste discrimination has been prohibited in India since 1948, a year after the national independence from Crown Rule. Dalit activists from Seattle and overseas rallied at Seattle City Hall in support of the ordinance, as stated by the Founder and Executive Director of California-based Equality labs, Thenmozhi Soundararajan.

Indian Diaspora in U.S.

As per the survey of the Migration Policy Institute, the U.S. is the second most popular destination for Indians living overseas. The data reveals that the U.S. diaspora increased from about 206,000 in 1980 to about 2.7 million in 2021. The group South Asian Americans Leading Together reports mentions that around 5.4 million South Asians live in the U.S. and this number rises from the 3.5 million counted in the 2010 census. The roots of most of the population can be tracked down to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Over the past 3 years, several colleges and university systems have moved to prohibit caste discrimination.

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