SEATTLE — The Seattle Metropolis Council on Tuesday added caste to the town’s anti-discrimination legal guidelines, turning into the first US metropolis to ban caste discrimination and the primary on this planet to go such a legislation outdoors South Asia.
Calls to outlaw discrimination based mostly on caste, a division of individuals based mostly on beginning or descent, have grown louder amongst South Asian diaspora communities in the US. However the motion has been getting pushback from some Hindu Individuals who argue that such laws maligns a selected group.
Tensions inside the group have been seen at Seattle Metropolis Corridor on Tuesday as a loud listening to culminated with a 6-1 vote with a majority of the council agreeing that caste discrimination crosses nationwide and spiritual boundaries and that with out such legal guidelines, these dealing with caste discrimination within the US can have no protections.
The packed room, which overflowed with activists from either side bearing banners, chanting slogans, difficult audio system and metropolis officers as they made their feedback, laid naked stark divisions over this concern inside the South Asian diaspora. A majority of these current in council chambers have been supporters of the ordinance and people opposed have been a vocal minority.
As council members voted in favor of the ordinance, the chamber erupted into cheers of “Jai Bhim,” which implies “victory for Bhim” a rallying cry adopted by followers of B.R. Ambedkar, an Indian Dalit rights icon whose given identify was Bhimrao. Dalit teams and their supporters say caste discrimination is prevalent in US diaspora communities, manifesting itself within the type of social alienation and discrimination in housing, training and the tech sector the place South Asians maintain key roles.
Yogesh Mane, a Seattle resident who grew up as an untouchable in India, broke into tears as he heard the council’s choice.
“I’m emotional as a result of that is the primary time such an ordinance has been handed anyplace on this planet outdoors of South Asia,” he mentioned. “It’s a historic second.”
Thenmozhi Soundararajan, govt director of Oakland, California-based Equality Labs, whose advocacy work together with group companions continues to push caste discrimination legal guidelines ahead, referred to as the council vote “a tradition warfare that has been gained.”
“We received the help of over 200 organizations from Seattle and across the nation,” she mentioned. “It’s a robust message that Dalit individuals are not alone. The South Asian group has united to say we wish to heal from the trauma of caste.”
Council Member Kshama Sawant, a socialist and the one Indian American on the Metropolis Council, mentioned the ordinance, which she proposed, doesn’t single out one group, however it accounts for the way caste discrimination crosses nationwide and spiritual boundaries. Sawant mentioned the council obtained over 4,000 emails in help of the ordinance.
“We’ve heard a whole lot of gut-wrenching tales over the previous few weeks exhibiting us that caste discrimination could be very actual in Seattle,” she mentioned.
Council Member Sara Nelson who solid the lone dissenting vote agreed with opponents calling the ordinance “a reckless, dangerous resolution to an issue for which we’ve no knowledge or analysis.”
“This might generate extra anti-Hindu discrimination and will dissuade employers from hiring South Asians,” she mentioned. “The group that’s being impacted is deeply divided on this concern.”
Nelson additionally mentioned the ordinance would additionally get the town entangled in authorized battles to which Sawant responded: “Deliver it on.” Sawant mentioned being terrified of lawsuits shouldn’t be the way in which to impact progress or change.
Council Member Lisa Herbold questioned opponents’ logic that the legislation singles out Hindus and folks of Indian descent.
“That’s like saying gender discrimination legal guidelines single out all males,” she mentioned. “And simply because we’ve a small inhabitants that’s experiencing (caste discrimination) that doesn’t make it any much less necessary.”
Shobha Swamy, a consultant of the Coalition of Hindus of North America mentioned she was upset by the council deliberations and line of questioning. The group mentioned they obtained a present of help from over 100 organizations.
“Due diligence wasn’t finished,” mentioned Swami, who flew in from Atlanta.
C.H. Srikrishna, a San Francisco Bay Space-based tech employee, mentioned he’s nervous in regards to the ramifications this ordinance may need for the South Asian group.
“I too need discrimination to finish,” he mentioned. “However we have to first decide that widespread discrimination exists.”
Srikrishna, who’s Hindu, believes the ordinance does goal his faith.
“Once you say it originated 2,000 years in the past, that’s implicitly blaming Hinduism,” he mentioned. “That bothers me. I really feel betrayed.”
Sanjay Patel, a tech firm proprietor from the Seattle space, mentioned he by no means felt discriminated in opposition to within the US as a member of a decrease caste and that the ordinance pained him as a result of it reminded him of a caste id, which he thought had grow to be out of date.
“I worry with this legislation, companies will probably be afraid to rent South Asians,” he mentioned.
Earlier Tuesday morning, a number of activists braved chilly temperatures and wind gusts to line up outdoors Metropolis Corridor so they’d get an opportunity to talk to the council earlier than the vote. However the council restricted public remark on the assembly the place greater than 300 individuals had requested to talk nearly and in individual. They heard about half of the feedback earlier than transferring on to deliberations and the vote.
The origins of the caste system in India might be traced again 3,000 years as a social hierarchy based mostly on one’s occupation and beginning. It’s a system that has advanced over the centuries below Muslim and British rule. The struggling of those that are on the backside of the caste pyramid — generally known as Dalits — has continued. Caste discrimination has been prohibited in India since 1948, a 12 months after the nation’s independence from British rule.
The US is the second hottest vacation spot for Indians dwelling overseas, in line with the Migration Coverage Institute, which estimates the US diaspora grew from about 206,000 in 1980 to about 2.7 million in 2021. The group South Asian Individuals Main Collectively experiences that just about 5.4 million South Asians reside within the US — up from the three.5 million counted within the 2010 census. Most hint their roots to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Over the previous three years, a number of schools and college techniques have moved to ban caste discrimination.
In December 2019, Brandeis College close to Boston grew to become the primary US school to incorporate caste in its nondiscrimination coverage. The California State College System, Colby School, Brown College and the College of California, Davis have all adopted related measures. Harvard College instituted caste protections for pupil staff in 2021 as a part of its contract with its graduate pupil union.