A landmark law banning caste-based discrimination came into effect in the United States city of Seattle, making it the first city outside India to enforce such a legislation.
The resolution was moved last month by Kshama Sawant, an Indian-American politician, economist and an upper-caste Hindu.
It was approved unanimously by the Seattle City Council by six to one vote.
Seattle is not only the first American city to ban caste discrimination but is the first jurisdiction at any level globally outside South Asia to do so.
“The world’s first ban against caste discrimination outside South Asia goes into effect TODAY in our city of Seattle!” Sawant said on Monday.
“Seattle’s law now prohibits businesses from discriminating based on caste with respect to hiring, tenure, promotion, workplace conditions, or wages,” Sawant said.
It will ban discrimination based on caste in places of public accommodation, such as hotels, public transportation, public restrooms, or retail establishments, she said, adding that the law also prohibits housing discrimination based on caste in rental housing leases, property sales, and mortgage loans.
Describing it as the biggest breakthrough for the global fight against caste oppression in many decades, Sawant said it has opened the floodgates for potentially winning such a ban on caste discrimination in other cities and states in the US as well.
“It’s not surprising that since we won in Seattle, policies against caste discrimination have been proposed in Toronto and California,” she noted.
Sawant said further victories are not guaranteed unless activists and working people adopt the kind of fighting strategy they used to win in Seattle.
“In fact, it is not coincidental that this unprecedented step forward occurred in this city. We won precisely because Socialist Alternative and I use our Council office as a vehicle to build united movements of working people, independent of the establishment that represents big business and the status quo,” Sawant explained.
Sawant, who migrated to the US from Pune in the late 1990s, said the next step would be to enforce this new law in the city.
“We need to keep building our movement to put pressure on the courts to win a case against caste discrimination using this law, which will be essential to force the major corporations to actually abide by it. My Council office will host a public hearing in May, inviting working people to speak out,” she explained.
Last week, California State Senator Aisha Wahab, the first Muslim and Afghan American elected to the state legislature, also introduced the bill seeking to explicitly ban caste discrimination.
Many Indian-Americans fear that codifying caste in public policy will further fuel instances of Hinduphobia in the US.
Over the last three years, ten Hindu temples and five statues, including those of Mahatma Gandhi and Maratha emperor Shivaji, have been vandalised across the US as an intimidation tactic against the Hindu community.
Indian-Americans are the second-largest immigrant group in the US.
According to data from the 2018 American Community Survey, which is conducted by the US Census Bureau, there are 4.2 million people of Indian origin residing in the United States.
India banned caste discrimination in 1948 and enshrined that policy in the Constitution in 1950.
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