Following a decision by the city council, Seattle has become the first city in the United States to outlaw caste discrimination.
Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, who drafted the law, said the struggle against caste bias “is deeply connected to the fight against all forms of oppression”.
Proponents of the prohibition argue that it is necessary to prevent caste bias from becoming more common in the United States.
What is India’s caste system?
India’s caste system is one of the world’s oldest forms of persisting social stratification.
Caste separates Hindus into rigid hierarchical groupings based on karma (effort) and dharma (the Hindi word for religion, but here it denotes responsibility) and is thought to be almost 3,000 years old.
How does caste work?
For ages, caste has governed nearly every aspect of Hindu religious and social life, with each group maintaining a distinct position in this complicated hierarchy.
Rural communities have long been divided along caste lines: “upper” and “lower” castes nearly always resided in separate colonies, water wells were not shared, Brahmins refused food or drink from Shudras, and one could marry only within one’s caste.
The system granted various privileges to the “upper” castes while allowing privileged groups to oppress the “lower” castes.
It was frequently condemned for being unjust and repressive, but it remained practically unchanged for centuries, keeping people in established social systems from which they could not escape.
India’s caste system in the US
The Seattle legislation voted last week follows similar bans on caste bias that have been implemented on US university campuses in recent years.
“Caste discrimination doesn’t only take place in other countries,” said Ms. Sawant, the only Indian American on Seattle’s city council.
“It is faced by South Asian American and other immigrant working people in their workplaces, including in the tech sector, in Seattle and in cities around the country.”
Ms. Sawant, a socialist, has previously spoken of her upbringing in an upper-caste Hindu Brahmin family in India, where she witnessed similar discrimination.
Caste discrimination has been illegal in India since 1948, yet, discrimination remains, especially among the Dalits, who were originally dubbed “untouchables”.
The US is the second most preferred destination for Indians residing overseas, according to the Migration Policy Institute research group. Seattle’s move to protect Indian Americans from unjust oppression based on their National identity and ancestry is a great step forward in human rights.