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Letter to Seattle City Council
Honorable Council members,
We, the undersigned, who represent a broad spectrum of Hindu and South Asian organizations, temples, and cultural associations, urge you to vote NO on Councilwoman Kshama Sawant’s proposed ordinance to ban alleged caste discrimination in Seattle.
We are shocked and saddened to see such a proposal, which is based on fallacies and unproven allegations by hate groups such as Equality Labs. This ordinance peddles bigotry and singles out the South Asian community by using racist, colonial tropes of “caste” and ensures that our community is subject to special scrutiny, thus denying our rights to freedom of religion and equal protection. Councilwoman Sawant is trying to present this as “right wing” pushback – we ask you to simply look at what Equality Labs and its directors have said in public and ask you to judge if they can indeed be seen as an “objective” source. A few examples are included below.
The folks pushing this ordinance have called for an open dismantling of the Hindu religion, even disparaging the extremely popular festival of Holi by falsely claiming that the festival celebrates the burning of a “low caste” woman and where men advance violence against women, including throwing semen. It is also important to note that Ms. Sawant has a history of working with and mainstreaming such hate groups.
The ordinance is heavily dependent on faulty data supplied by hate groups such as Equality Labs (discussed above) and the Ambedkar King Study Circle. The survey has been challenged by several sources over the years, with the most recent being the reputed Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In its 2021 survey on Indian Americans, Carnegie called out the survey’s flaws in Footnote 29, indicating the following (emphasis added):
This study 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 favor 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.
By relying on data from such groups, the council is mainstreaming hate against the South Asian community and reneging its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
There is also no substantial evidence of any caste-based discrimination in Seattle. We therefore wonder why the city would spend valuable time and resources behind such a baseless ordinance and risk potential lawsuits and loss of business opportunities from a vibrant South Asian community which contributes significantly to the city’s progress.
As proposed, the law singles out South Asians and projects them as a group that discriminates MORE than any other and thus requires a special monitoring. This is inherently discriminatory and violates our rights to equal protection and due process guaranteed by our constitution and Washington State law.
We also wonder how much the council knows about the nuances and the extremely complicated dynamics of “castes” in South Asia. For example, there are thousands of “castes” and social groupings within South Asia. Many vary based on the different states or provinces within each of the eight countries. How does the Seattle City Council plan to adjudicate these complaints or determine someone’s caste? Any litigation around caste discrimination will come up against strict guidelines set by the Supreme Court for Title VII claims subjecting the city to costly litigation and legal imbroglio.
In fact, such an experiment is a stark reminder of the racist and colonial policies implemented by the British to rule Indians and advance their inherent prejudice against the native “savage” population. Admitting the flaws in the colonizers’ attempts to assign castes to Indians, Mr. Middleton, a superintendent of the 1921 census survey of the Punjab Province of India, pointed out the effects of such policies:
We pigeonholed every one (sic) by caste, and if we could not find a true caste for them, labeled them with the name of a hereditary occupation. We deplored the caste system and its effects on social and economic problems, but we are largely responsible for the system we deplore … Government’s passion for labels and pigeonholes has led to a crystallization of the caste system, which except amongst the aristocratic castes, was really very fluid under indigenous rule.
The ordinance also claims that “caste” is hereditary and sanction by law and religion. There is no such law in the world, and certainly not in South Asia, which sanctions “caste” discrimination. In addition, there is no religion in South Asia that officially sanctions such discrimination. In fact, the very word “caste” is derived from the Portuguese “casta” and has no precedent in any South Asian system.
Furthermore, the ordinance cites the Cisco lawsuit by California Department of Civil Rights. The Council should pause and consider how an allegation that has not even been proven after close to three years, is counted as “evidence,” not just against the individuals involved, but against the entire community they hail from? This assumption of guilty unless proven innocent contravenes our fundamental principles of justice.
Similarly, the CSU policy cited as evidence/precedence has already resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the university. Brown University, in enacting a similar rule, admitted that “existing laws are sufficient to handle discrimination based on Caste.” Brandeis University has not recorded a single case of caste-based discrimination in the three years since caste was added as a protected category on its campus.
The facts directly contradict the exaggerated claims that caste based discrimination is widespread, rampant and an urgent problem that must be addressed with this ordinance.
As Americans and people of South Asian origin, we strong strongly condemn all forms of discrimination, including caste-based discrimination, and firmly believe that there is no place for prejudice and mistreatment of anyone in our diverse and pluralistic society. Fortunately, our country’s federal and state laws protect against caste discrimination under the existing categories of national origin and ancestry, both of which have been interpreted as inclusive of the various characteristics that might be associated with caste such as ancestry (lineage), birthplace, culture, ethnicity, or language.
We therefore strongly urge you to vote NO and not adopt policies that would unfairly and unconstitutionally target people of South Asian descent or origin, subject them to special scrutiny, leave them vulnerable to bullying in schools, and deprive them of their fundamental civil rights in the workplace or elsewhere.
Signatories (in Alphabetical Order)
1. All World Gayatri Pariwar
2. Ambaji USA Shree Shakti Mandir
3. Ambedkar-Phule Network of American Dalits and Bahujans
4. Amivex Inc
5. Annapoorna USA Foundation
6. Anup Inc
7. Ariven Community
8. Arya Pratinidhi Sabha America, Georgia
9. Arya Pratinidhi Sabha America, Michigan
10. AS Health Insurance
11. Ashwin College of Ayurveda
12. Be SANSKRITI Legacy
13. Behind Every Temple
14. Bellevue Hindu temple and cultural center
15. Bhavaanee Maa Mandir
16. Carmel Interfaith Alliance
17. Central Jersey Hindu Association
18. Coaliation of Hindus of North America (CoHNA)
19. Consciousness for Humantiy
20. Dakshin Vrindavan USA
21. Dalit Bahujan Solidarity Network
22. Dayton Hindu Temple
23. Durga Temple in New Jersey
24. Durga Temple of VA
25. Federation of Hindu Mandirs
26. Federation of Indian Associations of WA
27. Frisco Medical Associates
28. Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora
29. GLOBAL ORGANIZATION OF PEOPLE OF INDIAN ORIGIN OC
30. Greater Atlanta Vedic Temple Society Inc.
31. Greater Cleveland Shiva Vishnu Temple
32. Gujarati Samaj of Tampa Bay
34. Hindu American Society of Central NJ
35. Hindu Americans of San Diego
36. Hindu Cultural Center of Placer County
37. Hindu Decoloniality
38. Hindu Speakers Bureau
39. Hindu Temple of Bloomington
40. Hindu Temple of Central Arkansas
41. Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago
42. Hindu University of America
43. HinduAction KaramVeers
47. INDIA American forum
48. India Awareness Foundation
50. ISKCON of Silicon Valley
51. ISKCON of WA
52. Jain Society of Greater Cleveland
53. Jaya Hanuman Temple and Cultural Center
54. Jeeyer Education Trust
56. Kerala Hindus of North America
57. Kerala Hindus of Northern California
58. Mahaa Lakshmi Mandir
59. Mana Samskriti
61. MIP LLC
62. My Temple
63. New England Indian Christians fellowship
64. NRI JAC
65. Organization Of Hindu Malayalees
67. RICHA GRAPHICS
68. River Comics
69. Sai Temple of Austin
70. Sarascare Foundation USA
71. Shiva Vishnu Temple of Greater Cleveland
72. Shree Sai Parivar
73. Shri Darshan
74. Shri Navagraha Devasthanam of NA, Inc
75. Shri Sanatan Mandir
76. Shri Surya Narayan Mandir
77. Siddhi Vinayaka Cultural Center Inc
79. Srimanirama educational and cultural Foundation
80. Tamil Hindu
81. The Hindu Temple of Atlanta, Inc
82. The Saraswati Sangam Project
83. United American Hindu Leadership Council Inc
84. United States Hindu Alliance
85. Uttar Pradesh Mandal of America
86. Uttarpur Ganesha Mandali
87. Vaanprasth Punarutthan Yagya
88. Vaishnav Samaj of Southern California
89. Vedic Cultural Center
90. Vedic Education and Devotional Academy
91. VETRA INC
92. Washington Helping Hands
93. Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee
94. Whitestone Diamonds Inc
 See University of Texas Southwestern Medical Ctr. v. Nassar, No. 12-484 (June 24, 2013)