For the first time in the US, a city has expanded its anti-discrimination laws to include caste. The Seattle City Council, on February 21, took the historic decision while caste prejudice was adopted by a 6-1. Supporters argue it transcends national and religious lines, and those who experience caste discrimination in the US won’t have any rights without such regulations.
Socialist Kshama Sawant, the lone Indian American on the City Council, proposed the legislation. She took into account how caste discrimination transcended national and religious boundaries rather than targeting any particular population.
However, the South Asian diaspora in the US is divided over the ordinance. Proponents claim that it is necessary because caste is not protected by current civil rights laws. On the other hand, the opponents claim that it will defame a group (read Hindus) that is already the object of hostility in the USA.
Law becomes a point of clash between Proponents and Opponents
It has been observed that a section of South Asian ancestry have become more vocal in their calls to abolish caste-based discrimination. Some college and university systems have taken action to forbid caste discrimination over the last three years.
However, some Hindu Americans are opposing the movement, claiming that the measure unfairly targets their community. Organizations like the Hindu American Foundation and the Alliance of Hindus of North America opposed the legislation, arguing that it unnecessarily singles out a population that is already subject to discrimination in the United States.
Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), which spearheaded the opposition, also alleged that the legislation would promote prejudice against South Asians, and specially Hindus.
Aldrin Deepak, who is a Dalit and worked as an IT Director at a local San Francisco Bay Area company had a markedly different point of view.
“I have lived in the U.S. for 35 years. I have never been asked ‘what caste do you belong to?’” he said. “How do people know who is Dalit and who is not? No one is giving out any certificates. The friends who guided me along my career path are all Brahmins. This is a ridiculous issue meant to divide our community,” said Deepak.
Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), noted that the U.S. Constitution inherently guarantees protection from discrimination based on race or nationality. “Existing laws that ban discrimination based on national origin could arguably protect anyone who has faced caste discrimination, which is very rare,” she told Ethnic Media Services.
“This is perhaps the greatest civil rights challenge our community has faced. It adds one more stereotype of Indians as racists. They are dragging the politics of the subcontinent to the U.S. and pitting communities against each other. This will impact our children and our grandchildren,” said Shukla.
HAF has also sent a letter to Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison opposing the resolution.
In an open letter, the Washington DC-based Hindu American Federation noted that while the ordinance’s goals were praiseworthy, it ‘unfairly singles out and targets an entire community on the basis of their national origin and ancestry for disparate treatment’.
The letter further added that ‘Indian Americans make up less than 2% of Washington state’s population and that there was little evidence of any widespread discrimination based on caste’.
Netizens oppose the move of Seattle City Council
While some Twitter users called it an ‘attack on Hindu diaspora in the US’, others argued that the ‘Seattle council is letting only side talk.’
Even BJP Leader Kapil Mishra also opposed this move. He claimed that Hindu diaspora in USA is under attack. False narratives are being used against Hindus and Seattle is just a beginning. It seems Attempts are being made to malign a community that is already the target of prejudice. We need to stand strong with Hindus in the USA.
Seattle City Council had also passed resolutions against CAA and NRC
It is shocking to see that the Seattle City Council is known for taking such anti-Indian or anti-Hindu stands quite frequently. It had also unanimously passed a resolution condemning India’s recently-enacted Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Reaffirming Seattle as a welcoming city and expressing solidarity with the city’s South Asian community regardless of religion and caste, the resolution “resolves that the Seattle City Council opposes the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Act in India, and finds these policies to be discriminatory to Muslims, oppressed castes, women, indigenous, and LGBT people”.
It was again the same council member Kshama Sawant, who sponsored this resolution, which condemns Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “far right” government and which says the CAA and NRC could be used “to strip hundreds of millions of people … of their citizenship rights.”
“The rapidly expanding authoritarianism of the Modi government … is of concern, not only to the millions of Muslims, oppressed castes, women, indigenous, and LGBT people in India, but also to Seattle’s South Asian immigrant community,” it says.