Caste discrimination ban legislated in Seattle can set precedent in other countries.

The discussion has since been raised in Australia whether such a move would be seen here, given the growth of the Indian diaspora.

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Seattle has become the first US city to ban caste discrimination, pushing back against opposition by several organisations representing Hindus.

The legislation, modelled after laws against racial bias, seeks to ban caste-based discrimination in jobs, housing rental and sales and in public places like hotels, restaurants and stores.

The discussion has since been raised in Australia whether such a move would be seen here, given the growth of the Indian diaspora.

Yet the Seattle move was not without its detractors.

The City Council approved the legislative measure 6 to 1 with two absentees.

It pitched some Hindu organisations, which opposed it, against an assortment of leftist groups, civil rights groups and a union which linked it to broader civil rights and socio-economic issues in the US.

The Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), which spearheaded the opposition, however, said the legislation would promote prejudice against South Asians.
It “advances nothing but bigotry against the South Asian community by using racist, colonial tropes of ‘caste'”, the organisation said.

“It is also shocking to see the blatant singling out of a minority community based on nothing but unsubstantiated claims based on faulty data from hate groups,” it added.

Samir Kalra, the managing director of another organisation, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), said: “Seattle has taken a dangerous misstep here, institutionalising bias against all residents of Indian and South Asian origin, all in the name of preventing bias.

Caste discrimination ban
(Source: Twitter)

“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.”

However, HAF Executive Director Suhag Shukla, clarified that the organisation opposes caste discrimination: “Throughout our two decades of existence, HAF has maintained that caste discrimination is wrong, violating core Hindu principles of the divine oneness of all beings.”

Despite the criticism by the Hindu groups, the legislation does not mention any religion or ethnic group.

LISTEN: Pawan Luthra and others on ABC Radio: Seattle has banned caste discrimination – should Australia?

Similar anti-caste discrimination measures have been adopted by the California University System and Brandeis and Brown universities, while Harvard included an anti-caste discrimination clause in a contract with graduate students.

The issue of casteism hit the headlines in the United States in 2020 when the state of California sued tech conglomerate Cisco with the lawsuit alleging that the company failed to protect an Indian Dalit employee who was being actively targeted by his dominant caste Hindu managers. This case spurred a number of tech companies in the Silicon Valley to take note of this emerging issue.

The lawsuit was later dropped and refiled in a country court.

Dalit tech workers have been campaigning for the necessity of caste to be added as a protected category in the US workplace and the Seattle legislation is a step in that direction.

In Australia, too there have been reports of casteism emerging its ugly head though largely in social and religious surroundings. With a growing South Asian community and the spectre of homegrown biases following the new coterie of migrants, especially those from small towns and cities to Australia, there are calls to nip the issue of caste discrimination in the bud.

In Australia, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 defines racial discrimination as  “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.“

There are calls now to include caste discrimination in the Act itself.

With reports by Arul Louis in IANS

Read More: #DalitLivesMatter: the caste system still persists

Pawan Luthra
Pawan Luthra
Pawan is the publisher of Indian Link and is one of Indian Link's founders. He writes the Editorial section.

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