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HomeNews ReportsUSA: Seattle Council passes anti-caste resolution singling out Hindus for additional legal scrutiny

USA: Seattle Council passes anti-caste resolution singling out Hindus for additional legal scrutiny

Two Councilmembers, Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold, proposed the amendment to the City Council Act. They proposed to introduce Section 22 against the so-called caste-based discrimination.

On February 21 (local time), the Seattle City Council in USA passed Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s sponsored resolution to establish ‘caste’ as a protected category under the City’s non-discrimination policy. With the resolution, Seattle became the first City in the United States to acknowledge ‘caste’ as one of the reasons for discrimination. While those who supported the resolution celebrated the victory, Hindu organisations and leaders pointed out it would put the community under additional legal scrutiny.

Regarding the resolution, Hindu American Foundation (HAF) co-founder and Executive Director Suhag Shukla said in an official statement, “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 the addition of ‘caste’ to the non-discrimination policy violates the policies it now amends. The City of Seattle has voted to treat South Asians so 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.”

HAF added that by passing the resolution, Seattle had violated the equal protection and due process guaranteed to every person by the United States Constitution. Notably, as per the constitution, the state is prohibited from treating people disparately on the basis of their national origin, religion or ethnicity. The Foundation’s attorneys contended that the resolution would implement a vague, facially discriminatory and arbitrary category against the Hindus.

HAF Managing Director Samir Kalra 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. 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.”

HAF further noted that Councilmember Sawant claimed caste discrimination is “rampant” in the US. However, only Carnegie Endowment has done the only authoritative survey on discrimination against the Indian and South Asian communities in the country that noted that caste-based discrimination is rare in the US. The survey specifically debunked the methodology and findings of the dubious organisation Equality Labs, which was the base of Sawant’s resolution.

Ohio State Senator objects to the anti-Hindu ordinance

First Hindu and Indian State Senator of Ohio, Niraj Antani, criticised the ordinance passed by Seattle. He said, “I condemn in the strongest terms the ordinance passed by the Seattle City Council. Caste discrimination simply doesn’t exist now. Adding it to their non-discrimination policy is Hinduphobic and is a tool for those who are anti-Hindu use to discriminate against Hindus in America, India, and around the world. Instead of passing this racist policy, Seattle should be passing policies to protect Hindus from discrimination.”

The proposed amendment by Kshama Sawant

Two Councilmembers, Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold, proposed the amendment to the City Council Act. They proposed to introduce Section 22 against the so-called caste-based discrimination. Interestingly, the proposal document clearly showed it was targeted at Hindus and India. Calling it an international problem that affects over 250 million people, Sawant suggested that caste is “often associated with Hinduism and India”, but it “transcends religious and geographic boundaries, with caste-based discrimination showing up in Christian, Muslim, Sikh, and other religious communities” across South Asia, Southeast Asian and African communities, including Japan, the Middle East, Nigeria, Somalia, and Senegal.

She claimed that the caste system “travelled” with the individuals from the communities from the regions mentioned above to other countries and got embedded into those regions, including the United States. Despite being debunked by the authoritative survey that debunked the methodology used by Equality Lab’s propaganda, Sawant claimed in the proposal that the “experiences of caste-oppressed communities with discrimination has been growing in recent years”.

Interestingly, the Fiscal note of the amendment skipped using words like “Hinduism” and “India” and emphasised “South Asian Countries”. It read, “While caste is associated with the South Asian region, its existence can be found in diverse religious or ethnic groups in many regions, including diaspora communities like Seattle and the surrounding area. Lower caste individuals and communities can suffer discrimination based on their caste identity, and it is not clear that existing protections against discrimination based on characteristics like race, religion, national origin, or ancestry are sufficient. These communities have been historically marginalised in both countries abroad and in Seattle as a result of prejudice intact in local communities. This legislation will allow those subject to discrimination on the basis of caste a legal avenue to pursue a remedy against alleged discrimination.”

HAF’s Shukla, in a tweet, pointed out that the Council’s memo noted the caste-based law would cost the City $185,000 in the first year and $100,000 every year for the implementation. However, the question remained intact on the determination of the caste. There was no direction on how the caste of any individual would be determined. Will it be assigned by someone, self-determined or assumed? There was no clarity.

‘Biased and hateful’ – HAF debunks FAQ submitted by Kshama Sawant

In a detailed Twitter thread, HAF’s Shukla described how Sawant’s FAQ submitted to the Council was biased and hateful, targeting South Asians. Notably, Sawant admitted in her document that Seattle policy already bans discrimination based on nationality and ancestry. However, she failed to mention that her proposal violated those policies that she sought to amend by discriminating against a minority on the basis of origin and ancestry.

Suhag further pointed out that Sawant targeted South Asians based on a biased survey by a dubious organisation named Equality Labs. In the FAQs, Sawant pointed out that the data from Equality Labs showed that one in four caste-oppressed people cited physical and verbal assault and one in three faced education discrimination. She further claimed two in three faced workplace discrimination.

However, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace called out the survey on Indian Americans by Maari Zwick-Maitreyi, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Natasha Dar, Ralph F. Bheel, and Prathap Balakrishnan titled “Caste in the United States: A Survey of Caste Among South Asian Americans (Equality Labs, 2018)” and said it “relied on a nonrepresentative snowball sampling method to recruit respondents. Furthermore, respondents who did not disclose a caste identity were dropped from the data set. Therefore, it is likely that the sample does not fully represent the South Asian American population and could skew in favour of those who have strong views about caste. While the existence of caste discrimination in India is incontrovertible, its precise extent and intensity in the United States can be contested.”

Equality Labs is an extremely prominent anti-Brahmin Caste activism group in the United States. Known for its disinformation campaign, Equality Labs has often made headlines for its anti-Hindu propaganda. OpIndia has covered the organisation in detail, which can be checked here.

Though it is considered taboo to talk about, it is abundantly clear from numerous reports that the SC/ST Act in India, which is aimed at securing the rights of the marginalised communities in India, is often misused to settle personal scores. How Seattle City is going to ensure that the law will not be used to target the Indian Diaspora living peacefully in the City to settle any personal score is unclear.

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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