Seattle considers historic law barring caste discrimination

by | Feb 20, 2023 | Religion

(AP) — Among Kshama Sawant’s earliest memories of the caste system was hearing her grandfather — a man she “otherwise loved very much” — utter a slur to summon their lower-caste maid.The Seattle City Council member, raised in an upper-caste Hindu Brahmin household in India, was 6 when she questioned her grandfather about it. He responded that his granddaughter “talked too much.”
Now 50, and an elected official in a city far from India, Sawant has proposed an ordinance to add caste to Seattle’s anti-discrimination laws. If the council approves it Tuesday, Seattle will become the first U.S. city to specifically outlaw caste discrimination.
In India, the caste system’s origins can be traced back 3,000 years as a social hierarchy based on birth. While the definition of caste has evolved, under Muslim and British rule, the suffering of those at the bottom of the caste pyramid – known as Dalits — has continued.
In 1948, India banned caste discrimination, and enshrined that policy in the constitution in 1950. Yet the undercurrents of caste continue across Indian society; caste-based violence is rampant.
The U.S. caste debate has divided the South Asian community. Dalit activists say caste discrimination is prevalent in diaspora communities, surfacing in social relations, housing, education and the …

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