Seattle Considering Law That Would Bar Caste Discrimination

City Council member Kshama Sawant was raised in an upper-caste Hindu Brahmin household in India.

A historic law is being considered in Seattle that would ban caste discrimination in Washington’s largest city.

According to the Associated Press, Kshama Sawant, a Seattle City Council member who was raised in an upper-caste household in India, has proposed an ordinance to add caste to Seattle’s anti-discrimination laws. If approved on Tuesday (February 21), Seattle would become the first city in the United States to specifically outlaw caste discrimination.

The origins of India’s caste system goes back 3,000 years as a social hierarchy based on one’s birth. Those at the bottom of the caste pyramid, known as Dalits (meaning “broken” in Sanskrit), still suffer, even though the definition of caste has evolved over the centuries, under both Muslim and British rule.

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In 1948, India banned discrimination on the basis of caste, a law that became enshrined in the nation’s constitution in 1950. The undercurrents of caste, however, continue to influence India’s politics, education, employment and more. Caste-based violence, especially against Dalit women, is still rampant.

In America, the national debate around caste has been centered in the South Asian community, causing a divide within the diaspora. According to Dalit activist-led organization Equality Labs, caste discrimination is prevalent in diaspora communities, which reveal themselves in the form of social alienation and discrimination in housing, education and the tech sector.

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