(VitalNews.org) – Possibly the bluest of liberal cities, Seattle, Washington, just added a new identity category — unfamiliar to most Americans — to its anti-discrimination laws.
Social “caste,” a type of social class system practiced in India, has been added as a protected identity category in city law thanks to Indian immigrant Kshama Sawant.
Sawant, now a Seattle City Council member, was raised in India. Her family was considered to be of the Brahmin caste. While there is no direct equivalent of the caste system in the United States, the Brahmin caste in India is closest to what typical Americans would call “upper class.”
In India, the caste system is similar to the class system of aristocracy, nobility, and peasantry, long obtained in Western Europe.
Sawant proposed the amendment to Seattle’s ordinances that would add “caste” to non-discrimination rules. The measure went to a vote of the entire council Tuesday, February 21.
It passed 6-1, making Seattle the first and only US city that recognizes “caste” at all, let alone elevating that characteristic to what are known as “protected classes” of people in anti-discrimination law.
While the Indian immigrant and South Asian population in America generally has been discussing caste issues internally, this move in Seattle appears to be one of the first proposals that an American jurisdiction recognizes caste in its governance.
There is disagreement among immigrants about how important caste is in the context of American life and legal rights. San Francisco resident Aldrin Deepak, a Hindu immigrant who has lived in the US for 35 years, said he’s never encountered caste discrimination in the United States.
“Making an issue where there is none,” he said, would only further fracture populations.
Nikunj Trivedi is the president of the Coalition of Hindus of North America. He said the current US conversation about caste is “completely twisted.” The Seattle proposal is dangerous, he said, because it relies on anecdotal stories rather than verifiable data.
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