On February 21, the Seattle City Council became the first city in the United States of America (USA) to ban caste-based discrimination.


About the Ordinance

  • Amending the City Municipal Code, an ordinance was issued, which includes caste as a class to be protected against discrimination, alongside race, gender, and religion.
  • The Seattle City Council defined caste as a “rigid social stratification characterised by hereditary status, endogamy and social barriers sanctioned by custom, law or religion”.
  • The council said discrimination based on caste was occurring in Seattle and that the legislation would prohibitsuch caste-based discrimination against individuals.”
  • The fight to address caste discrimination was led by Dalit rights activists and organisations like Equality Labs and other local groups, many of whom originally hailed from India.


Have cases of caste discrimination been documented?

  • The Equality Labs 2016 Caste in the United States survey found that one in four Dalits in the U.S. had faced verbal or physical assault. Also, two out of every three said they had faced discrimination at work.
  • The data are corroborated by hundreds of testimonies of caste-oppressed people who spoke up against discrimination at workplaces, places of worship, and in community relationships.


Criticism of this Ordinance

  • The ordinance can be seen as something that could lead to further “anti-Hindu discrimination”.
  • The lone dissenter, Council Member Sara Nelson, echoed some of these concerns. She said, “this could generate more anti-Hindu discrimination and could dissuade employers from hiring South Asians”.
  • When Seattle should be protecting the civil rights of all its residents, it is actually violating them by running roughshod over the most basic and fundamental rights in US law, all people being treated equally.
  • Another criticism of the move has been regarding the research done before the law was passed.
  • Critics also point out towards the fact that “Due diligence wasn’t done”.