Seattle’s city council Tuesday voted to ban discrimination on the basis of caste. Seattle is the first city to adds “caste” to other anti-discrimination provisions of its municipal code, following the California state university system’s decision last January to prohibit discrimination on this basis. Caste discrimination has been banned in India since 1948.
Discrimination on the basis of caste is defined in the ordinance as “a system of rigid social stratification characterized by hereditary status, endogamy, and social barriers sanctioned by custom, law, or religion.” The ordinance was introduced by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who called this form of discrimination a “hidden and unreported issue” in Washington state. Washington is home to over 167,000 people from South Asia, with most of them concentrated in the Greater Seattle area.
On her blog, Councilmember Sawant cited a study that claims “one in four caste-oppressed people in the United States faced physical and verbal assault, one in three faced education discrimination, and two in three (sixty seven percent) faced workplace discrimination.” There was only one vote against the ordinance from Councilmember Sara Nelson who claimed that the ordinance “could generate more anti-Hindu discrimination and could dissuade employers from hiring South Asians.”
The ordinance will be enforced by the Seattle Office of Civil Rights (SOCR) which handles federal and state discrimination complaints in the city. The office requested additional funding to ensure it was able to update anti-discrimination materials and respond to complaints of discrimination on the basis of caste.