Seattle's civil rights laws don't protect against caste discrimination — but they soon could
In the Seattle area’s South Asian Community, there is growing concern about discrimination based on a person’s caste.
City Councilmember Kshama Sawant aims to expand the city’s civil rights measures to address this issue, a move her office says would make Seattle the first city in the nation to ban caste-based discrimination.
The caste system has been used to create social hierarchies in South Asian countries. It’s something Samir Khobragade grew up with in India. He’s now a tech worker in Seattle and welcomes steps to prevent caste discrimination here.
“When we Indians come to the U.S., we bring our biases with us.” he said. “And we get away with the discriminatory behavior because people in the U.S. do not know how to spot this discriminatory behavior.“
Right now, Seattle city code provides some protection for people who face discrimination through things like race, skin color, or gender identity.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant wants to add caste to that list. That would allow people to file related complaints, and for the city to follow up.
“Elected officials in the region have a political and moral obligation to address caste discrimination, and not allow it to remain invisible and unaddressed,” Sawant said.
The proposal comes on the heels of similar efforts either through universities or government offices in different parts of the country.
Sawant said she is hopeful these protections, if put in place, could benefit workers in local tech companies and also inspire similar moves in South Asia.