Seattle Becomes First US City To Ban Caste Discrimination

The Seattle City Council has passed a landmark ordinance to ban caste discrimination, making it the first U.S. city to outlaw the social evil.

The legislation was drafted and introduced by Council member Kshama Sawant, who is the chair of the Sustainability and Renters’ Rights Committee.

Presenting the legislation, Sawant 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. That’s why my office is proud to bring forward first-in-the-nation legislation for our city to ban caste-based discrimination, in solidarity with our South Asian and other immigrant community members, and all working people.”

The legislation will prohibit businesses from discriminating based on caste with respect to hiring, tenure, promotion, workplace conditions, or wages. It will ban discrimination based on caste in places of public accommodation, such as hotels, public transportation, public restrooms, or retail establishments. The law will also prohibit housing discrimination based on caste in rental housing leases, property sales, and mortgage loans.

Seattle is one of the regions in the United States where a large number of South Asian community is concentrated. More than 167,000 people from South Asia are living in Washington, largely concentrated in the Greater Seattle area.

Seattle is one of the cities where caste discrimination “remains a largely hidden and unreported issue,” as noted in a recent report.

“We know that caste discrimination has been growing in the United States across many industries, including technology, construction, restaurants and the service industry, and in domestic work,” says Sawant, who is the only Indian American on the Seattle city council.

Caste discrimination is increasingly a grave contributor to workplace discrimination and bias in the U.S. Data from Equality Labs show that one in four caste-oppressed people faced physical and verbal assault, one in three faced education discrimination, and 67 percent faced workplace discrimination.

By passing the ordinance on Tuesday, the City of Seattle joins the NAACP, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), AFL-CIO, the California State University, and Brandeis University in banning caste discrimination.

The Alphabet Workers Union has said that the “fight for the civil rights of caste-oppressed people is a workers’ fight.” Alphabet is the parent company of Google.

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