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'Unprecedented': Anti-caste law in US city bans businesses discriminating at workplace

By Our Representative 

In an unprecedented move, the Seattle City Council, Washington State, USA, has passed a legislation to ban caste-based discrimination. Introduced by Council member Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), if passed, it will prohibit, “businesses from discriminating based on caste with respect to hiring, tenure, promotion, workplace conditions, or wages.”
The law will ban 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.
There is a strong view among US-based Dalit groups and other Indian American human rights organisations that caste discrimination "is a pervasive and systemic issue that has a devastating impact on individuals and communities. It is unacceptable that in this day and age, people are still facing discrimination based on caste.”
The legislation was introduced amidst complaints of open caste bias against Dalits among Indian diaspora working in influential positions in US-based companies. Diaspora human rights activists in the US welcomed the law, stating this is the first move towards banning caste discrimination across the country. 
Welcoming the move, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a Dalit rights activist and the executive director of Equality Labs, said: “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!" 
She added, "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! We are united as a South Asian American community in our commitment to heal from caste. First Seattle, now the nation!”
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.”
Karthikeyan Shanmugam, secretary, Ambedkar King Study Circle (AKSC), said: “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." 
He added, "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. 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.”
Passage of the legislation is a significant step towards the elimination of caste-based discrimination in US
Maya Kamble of the Ambedkar Association of North America (AANA) said: “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.”
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.”
“Caste is a crime against humanity, it’s a blot on our society, and it’s a shame that it is practiced in the 21st century in Seattle,” said Hasan Khan, Indian American Muslim Council board member from Seattle, who testified on the issue before the Seattle City Council. “This law sends a clear message that such discrimination will not be tolerated in Seattle and that the city is committed to promoting equality and justice for all its residents,” he added.
“We stand as allies with the Dalit community, which has tirelessly worked to raise awareness on the issue of caste discrimination here in the United States, as well as to protect the people who battle this pervasive form of oppression on a daily basis,” said Javed Sikander, who also represented IAMC’s Seattle chapter before the City Council.
The Hindus for Human Rights, a non-profit based in the US, congratulating Council member Sawant and the coalition of organizations "that fought to achieve the win", said, "The City Council made history by making the city the first in the US to ban caste discrimination. As a Hindu American organization, whose members and leadership come from diverse caste backgrounds, it is our duty to dismantle caste and fight caste discrimination."
HfHR activist Sravya Tadepalli said, "I am a proud Hindu. As a Hindu, our most important belief is that God is present in every human being, and we must work to protect that equality. This law would ensure that every individual is treated equally under the law, regardless of their caste."
Added another activist Raju Rajagopal, "Let’s remember history: We heard many similar claims during the 60’s debate that the Civil Rights legislation would unfairly target all White people. The issue of caste discrimination is no more complex than race and gender discrimination for those who have the resolve to fight it."



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