Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK chief MK Stalin lauded the ordinance introduced on 24 January, 2023, by Seattle Council Member Kshama Sawant in the Seattle City Council, Washington, as a “progressive step to eradicate discrimination in any form”.
He took to Twitter to applaud the historic ordinance which seeks to protect over 1.67 lakh South Asian people living in the Greater Seattle area from caste discrimination.
The Ambedkar International Center (AIC) — a US-based civil rights group dedicated to fighting caste oppression — and other groups want the Seattle City Council to ban caste-based discrimination.
The AIC has worked closely with Sawant, the Coalition of Seattle Indian-Americans (CSAI), Equality Labs, the Ambedkarite Buddhist Association of Texas, Boston Study Group, Ambedkar Kings Study Circle, and the Ambedkar Association of North America (AANA) to help draft this proposed ordinance.
This proposal apparently builds on the AIC’s policy and advocacy efforts to end caste-based discrimination and fight for justice for victims of caste discrimination.
The AIC was also the “amicus curiae” in the infamous Department of Fair Employment and Housing vs Cisco Systems, Sundar Iyer, and Ramana Kompella case of caste discrimination in workplaces in the US.
This proposal comes in light of a growing movement to recognise and stop caste discrimination in the US.
Recently, Brown University became the first Ivy League institution to add caste to its non-discrimination policy and explicitly prohibit caste discrimination, joining several US colleges and universities.
I congratulate @SeattleCouncil member @cmkshama‘s historic ordinance to protect over 1,67,000 South Asian people living in the Greater Seattle area from caste discrimination.
Progressive step to eradicate discrimination in any form is really laudable. https://t.co/gratGfXxBH
— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) January 30, 2023
What they said
“Taking up such a model legislation is the need of the hour; a raft of evidence shows that the evils of caste and caste discrimination are present in the United States,” said Anil Wagde, a member of the AIC.
Speaking to reporters after the ordinance was passed on 25 January, Wagde remarked, “Those who deny the presence of caste usually come from the privileged Brahmin and upper-class backgrounds. They are not aware of the situation of those who suffer due to caste discrimination.”
He went on to point out that the Brahmins are often very open about their caste identity and can often be observed making remarks about those who do not follow Hindu beliefs or partake in meat consumption, which can be associated with a lower-caste background.
Wagde then shared the story of his friend, who was asked direct questions concerning his caste, and on one occasion a colleague even touched his shoulder in an attempt to find out if he was wearing a janeu — a sacred thread worn by Brahmin men to signify their caste.
If approved, the ordinance would put Seattle at the national forefront and add caste to its civil rights laws, prohibit caste-based discrimination, and include protections against discrimination in employment, public places, housing, and contracting.
Also read: Karnataka: 14 SC families in Gadag allege caste atrocities
Another side of discrimination
Sawant, during the interaction, said: “Caste discrimination has become a major problem in the United States and is responsible for discrimination in areas such as technology, construction, restaurants, the service industry,
and domestic work.”
She added: “The results of the 2016 survey conducted by Equality Labs, a US-based Dalit civil rights organisation, indicated that one out of four people who are oppressed due to their caste have experienced physical and verbal attacks, and one out of three have had difficulties with their education. Additionally, two out of three, which is 67 percent, have encountered workplace discrimination.”
Thenmozhi Sounderarajan of Equality Labs said: “Caste is a feminist, queer, and workers’ rights issue, and the time has come to ensure that discrimination, bias, and worker exploitation on the basis of caste is not only illegal but will be properly enforced throughout the city.”