In a major development that has set the pace for others, Seattle has become the first United States city to ban caste discrimination and the first in the world to pass such a law outside South Asia.
According to Wikipedia, Caste is a form of social stratification characterised by endogamy, hereditary transmission of a style of life which often includes an occupation, ritual status in a hierarchy, and customary social interaction and exclusion based on cultural notions of purity and pollution.
The caste system in India dates back over 3,000 years and divides Hindu society into rigid hierarchical groups.
Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, who wrote the legislation, said the fight against caste bias “is deeply connected to the fight against all forms of oppression”.
According to Advocates of the ban, the development is needed to prevent caste bias from becoming more prevalent in the US.
The ordinance passed by Seattle follows similar bans on caste bias that have been introduced on the campuses of US universities in recent years.
Sawant, who is the only Indian American on the Seattle city council, said “Caste discrimination doesn’t only take place in other countries
“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.”
Recall that Sawant, a socialist, has previously spoken of being raised in an upper-caste Hindu Brahmin household in India and witnessing such discrimination.
But, the measure has been opposed by some Hindu American groups, who argue a ban is not necessary as US law already prohibits such discrimination.
The Washington DC-based Hindu American Federation had in an open letter, said while the ordinance’s goals were praiseworthy, it “unfairly singles out and targets an entire community on the basis of their national origin and ancestry for disparate treatment”.
According to the letter, the Indian Americans are made up less than 2% of Washington State’s population, and argued there was little evidence of any widespread discrimination based on caste.
It is germane to note that Caste discrimination has been banned in India since 1948, however, discrimination continues, especially against the Dalits, who were once called “untouchables”.
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