On Tuesday, February 21, the Seattle City Council passed the resolution introduced by Councilmember Sawant establishing ‘caste’ as a protected category under the city’s non-discrimination policy, making Seattle the first city in the United States to do so.
In response to the resolution Hindu American Foundation co-founder and Executive Director Suhag Shukla, Esq. stated:
“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. At the same time, we maintain that the singling out of South Asians and addition of ‘caste’ to non-discrimination policy violates the very policies it now amends. The City of Seattle has voted to treat South Asians in a manner that no other ethnic or racial community is treated under the guise of non-discrimination. It has voted yes to discriminating against ethnic minorities, repeating the ugliness of nativists in the state nearly a century ago.”
In passing this resolution, Seattle is now in violation of the US Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process that prohibit the state from treating disparately people on account of their national origin, ethnicity, or religion, and implementing a vague, facially discriminatory and arbitrary category, Foundation attorneys contended.
“Seattle has taken a dangerous misstep here, institutionalizing bias against all residents of Indian and South Asian origin, all in the name of preventing bias,” said HAF Managing Director Samir Kalra. “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.”
Though caste discrimination has been presented by Councilmember Sawant and her supporters as being rampant in the US, the only authoritative survey on discrimination against the Indian and South Asian community here, done by the Carnegie Endowment, has found that incidents of caste discrimination are rare.
Furthermore this survey specifically rebuked the findings and methodology of a survey by Equality Labs upon which Councilmember Sawant based her resolution.
HAF is investigating all avenues of response to this facially discriminatory policy and will also be closely monitoring the implementation of it as that too will be discriminatory given its applicability to only certain ethnic groups in the City of Seattle.