A councillor in Seattle has taken a historic step within the struggle towards caste-based discrimination by proposing the first-ever laws in america to straight outlaw the observe.
Kshama Sawant, Seattle’s solely Indian-American metropolis councillor, mentioned in proposing the laws final month that South Asian Individuals face caste discrimination in employment, schooling and housing. She desires to develop the town’s present anti-discrimination coverage to guard these focused due to their caste.
The 2-millennium-old caste system is practised in international locations akin to India, the place Dalits, previously often called “untouchables”, lie on the backside of the hierarchy.
Sawant says the proposed laws, which fits to a vote on February 21, would assist put an finish to an “invisible and unaddressed” type of discrimination in Seattle, dwelling to an estimated 75,000 Indian Individuals.
“Caste discrimination is a really severe problem in america,” Sawant informed Al Jazeera. “Decrease-caste group members from South Asian and different immigrant backgrounds typically face discrimination, particularly within the office.”
The caste system was formally banned in India in 1950 but it surely continues to permeate many facets of day by day life and has unfold to diaspora communities within the West. Underneath this method, caste is imposed at delivery and lower-caste members are assigned menial work thought of unfit for the higher castes.
‘Legal guidelines wanted’
In accordance with the first-ever survey on caste discrimination within the US, performed in 2016 by Equality Labs, a minimum of 25 p.c of Dalits within the nation mentioned that they had confronted verbal or bodily assault, whereas two out of three reported being handled unfairly within the office.
Many have known as for stronger authorized protections towards caste discrimination.
Samir, who spoke to Al Jazeera on the situation his final identify be withheld, mentioned he had stored his caste a secret from his colleagues in Seattle’s tech business for almost a decade for concern of discrimination. However in 2020, he determined to deal with the difficulty publicly in an internet put up.
He believes the US should evolve to account for the biases imported by some immigrants.
“It will be naive to consider that as quickly as an individual takes a flight to the US, their biases are magically gone,” he mentioned. “Whereas schooling and public consciousness are our weapons in our struggle for equality, sadly, it’s not sufficient. Legal guidelines and laws are additionally wanted … [to] assist be sure that social change is sustainable.”
The difficulty of caste discrimination within the US has repeatedly made headlines, together with in 2020, when California regulators sued Cisco Methods Inc for allegedly discriminating towards a Dalit worker. Cisco has mentioned it acted in compliance with all legal guidelines and inner insurance policies and promised a “vigorous” defence.
The case, which continues to be pending, prompted Apple to replace its insurance policies to explicitly prohibit caste discrimination, making it the primary tech large to take action.
And in 2021, a federal lawsuit spanning 5 US states accused a outstanding Hindu organisation, BAPS, of trafficking Dalit employees from India and forcing them to work at wages as little as $1.20 an hour to construct temples beneath harsh circumstances. BAPS has denied the allegations.
The renewed dialog about caste has additionally prompted some US faculties and universities to step up protections for Dalit college students, akin to by including caste to inner anti-discrimination insurance policies.
Assist for victims
Anil Wagde, an activist with the Ambedkar Worldwide Heart (AIC), a Maryland-based Dalit-rights group concerned in serving to to draft the Seattle laws, mentioned its passage might educate public establishments, firms and civil society on how caste bias operates.
“It is going to additionally present much-needed safety and help for victims of caste discrimination and violence to confront their perpetrators,” Wagde informed Al Jazeera.
Prashant Nema, an activist with the Silicon Valley-based Ambedkar King Research Circle – a gaggle that goals to problem caste, race, gender and different types of oppression in politics and society and that additionally contributed to the proposed laws – agreed: “There are various methods the caste-oppressed can get discriminated towards, excluded and even harassed in America, as a result of a scarcity of authorized methods to deal with these conditions,” he informed Al Jazeera. “[The bill’s] passage will create a rule of legislation.”
However some teams have raised objections, together with the Coalition of Hindus of North America, urging Seattle’s metropolis council to reject the laws.
“This unique concentrate on one group is discriminatory in itself and this must be opposed by truthful minded individuals who worth equal remedy,” a coalition spokesperson informed Al Jazeera in an emailed assertion. “Present legal guidelines round ancestry and nationwide origin can be utilized to prosecute official instances of caste discrimination.”
Sawant mentioned this can be a typical right-wing speaking level and an try to stifle the rights of oppressed-caste members within the US: “To say that defending lower-caste Indian Individuals towards discrimination would goal Indian Individuals from different castes is like saying addressing racism towards Black and brown folks would negatively have an effect on white folks.”
In the meantime, for Dalits in different US cities, the introduction of anti-caste laws in Seattle has raised hopes for nationwide motion.
The proposed state laws “is small, however a landmark second for us”, Dolly Arjun, a Dalit-American activist from Boston, informed Al Jazeera. “But it surely’s only the start. We goal to have a nationwide ban towards this despicable and inhumane observe of the caste system.”