Mumbai born Seattle City Council member introduces legislation in solidarity with South Asian and other immigrants
Seattle City Council’s lone socialist Indian American member Kshama Sawant has introduced first-in-the-nation legislation for the city to ban caste-based discrimination, in solidarity with its South Asian and other immigrant communities.
“If approved by the City Council, the legislation will ban caste-based discrimination in our city,” Mumbai born Sawant, 46, who has represented District 3, Central Seattle in the council since 2013, stated Tuesday.
Read: Kshama Sawant to launch ‘Workers Strike Back’ movement (January 23, 2023)
The legislation will prohibit businesses from discriminating based on caste with respect to hiring, tenure, promotion, workplace conditions, or wages, she stated.
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.
“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,” Sawant stated.
“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,” she stated.
“With over 167,000 people from South Asia living in Washington, largely concentrated in the Greater Seattle area, the region must address caste discrimination, and not allow it to remain invisible and unaddressed,” Sawant added.
Sawant said 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.
“Caste discrimination is increasingly a grave contributor to workplace discrimination and bias—data from Equality Labs show that one in four caste-oppressed people faced physical and verbal assault, one in three faced education discrimination, and two in three (67%) faced workplace discrimination,” she stated..
“Seattle is one of the cities where caste discrimination “remains a largely hidden and unreported issue,” Sawant stated citing a recent article in Real Change.
It quotes a spokesperson from the City of Seattle Office of Civil Rights as saying, “Caste Status is not a recognized protected class in the City of Seattle and if our office were to receive a complaint based solely on caste discrimination, we would not be able to investigate it…”
“This is exactly why City Council Democrats must vote ‘Yes’ on the legislation from my office,” Sawant stated noting, “If the City Council supports our bill, Seattle will become the first city in the nation to outlaw caste discrimination!”
Sawant drafted the legislation alongside South Asian community leaders.
Thenmozhi Sounderarajan of Equality Labs commented, “Equality Labs is proud to join Councilmember Kshama Sawant and Seattle citizens in this historic ordinance to add caste as a protected category to its non-discrimination policy.
“As a national Dalit civil rights organization that has worked with many institutions around the country to add caste as a protected category, this act is the necessary first step to ensure the rights of all Seattle citizens.”
Shahira Kaur from Equality Labs said, “Through the proposed ordinance making caste discrimination illegal, Seattle is taking the lead in a historical battle for caste equity and is ensuring that the necessary protections are in place for caste-oppressed Americans.”
“The cancer of caste is very much present in the US,” said Anil Wagde of the Ambedkar International Center, “and the ordinance will provide much-needed teeth for the victims of caste discrimination to confront the perpetrators of caste violence. It will also play a big role in paving the way for future nationwide legislation.”
“With growing numbers of South Asians in the USA, the number of caste atrocities are growing, too,” said Maya Kamble from the Ambedkar Association of North America. “So, adding caste as a protected category is the need of the hour and a welcome step for caste oppressed communities.”
“Legal protection is the only means to guard the vulnerable from caste exploitation in places where dominant castes have privilege and preponderance,” said Karthik of the Ambedkar King Study Circle.
“The Seattle city ordinance sponsored by Kshama Sawant to outlaw caste discrimination will set a strong precedent for the rest of the United States,” he said urging the City Council to pass the legislation.
“The struggle against racial and gender oppression in Seattle and all across America needs to be linked with the fight against all oppression, and against economic exploitation of the majority of working people,” added Sawant.