Coalition of Hindus of North America

More than 100 diverse organizations and businesses urge Seattle City Council to vote “NO” on the propose caste ordinance

More than 100 diverse organizations and businesses urge seattle city council to vote "no" on the proposed caste ordinance

Note: Signatories will be updated periodically. To add your organization’s or group’s name as a signatory (official representatives only), please click here to fill out the form.

 
The letter contains a diverse coalition of nearly 100 organizations, including Dalit and Bahujan groups, major Hindu and Jain temples, cultural and social organizations, as well as non-Hindu organizations.

Honorable Council Members,

We, the undersigned, who represent a broad spectrum of Hindu and South Asian organizations, temples, cultural associations, and allies, urge you to vote NO on Councilwoman Kshama Sawant’s proposed ordinance to ban alleged caste discrimination in Seattle.

To be clear,  we 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. We are ready to offer help to anyone who has faced such discrimination.

However, we are shocked and saddened to see such the current proposal, which is based on falsehoods 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.

The groups 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.[1] It is also important to note that Ms. Sawant has a history of working with and mainstreaming such hate groups.[2]

Some examples:

 anti-Hindu tweets by Sharmin Hossain

 caste anti-Hindu tweet by Sharmin Hossain

EL Holi Article ExcerptEL Holi Tweet

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,[3] 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):[4] 

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 on its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

There is no substantiated evidence of any discrimination in Seattle that can be correctly traced back to caste, whether or not caste is a category for protection. We 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 require 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[5] 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 sanctioned by law and religion. There is no such law in the world, and certainly not in South Asia, that sanctions “caste” discriminationIn 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.

For a more detailed look at the scholarly research on this subject, see [6] [7]

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 argued in open court, let alone 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 and is reminiscent of the dark days of McCarthyism in our country. 

Similarly, the CSU policy cited as evidence/precedence has already resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the university on First Amendment grounds. 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 oppose discrimination in any form – caste discrimination or otherwise – and strive for a society that is free of prejudice and bigotry. 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.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

REFERENCES:

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20200306101500/https://medium.com/@EqualityLabs/why-do-we-say-no-to-holi-a-guide-to-challenge-casteism-ad592d0735cb

[2] https://www.indiaabroad.com/indian-americans/seattle-city-council-passes-resolution-introduced-by-kshama-sawant-against-caa-nrc/article_4ea7f9b0-4704-11ea-9a79-93263c822307.html 

[3] https://medium.com/@rachelgotham5/equality-labs-caste-report-a-rebuttal-to-a-british-colonial-narrative-replayed-1676068ee2cf

https://www.indiaabroad.com/recrimination-or-reconciliation/article_ad5cea31-1739-5105-9254-2d4ff29eece5.html

[4] https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/06/09/social-realities-of-indian-americans-results-from-2020-indian-american-attitudes-survey-pub-84667

[5] https://tile.loc.gov/storage-services/service/ll/usrep/usrep570/usrep570338/usrep570338.pdf

[6] http://www.insoso.org/images/pdfs/Art2.2-Bhadra.pdf

[7] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265445481_Caste_Confusion_and_Census_Enumeration_in_Colonial_India_1871-1921)


List of 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. Coalition 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
24. Durga Temple in New Jersey
25. Durga Temple of Virginia
26. Federation of Hindu Mandirs
27. Federation of Indian Associations of Washington
28. Federation of Indo-American Association
29. Frisco Medical Associates
30. GenNext Software Services
31. GiveTheNeed
32. Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora
33. Global One LT Inc
34. Global Organization of People of Indian Origin OC
35. Greater Atlanta Vedic Temple Society Inc
36. Greater Cleveland Shiva Vishnu Temple
37. Gujarati Samaj of Tampa Bay
38. HindiUSA
39. Hindu American Society of Central NJ
40. Hindu Americans of San Diego
41. Hindu Cultural Center of Placer County
42. Hindu Decoloniality
43. Hindu Samaj Inc
44. Hindu Speakers Bureau
45. Hindu Temple of Bloomington
46. Hindu Temple of Central Arkansas
47. Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago
48. Hindu temple of the desert
49. Hindu University of America
50. HinduAction KaramVeers
51. HinduDvesha
52. Hindumisia
53. Hindupedia
54. IAFF
55. Indian American Forum for Political Education
56. India Awareness Foundation
57. Indo-American Community Federation
58. InterfaithShaadi
59. Iranian Students Association (ISA)
60. ISKCON of Silicon Valley
61. ISKCON of Washington
62. Jain Society of Greater Cleveland
63. Jaya Hanuman Temple and Cultural Center
64. Jeeyer Education Trust
65. KarmaKonnect
66. Kerala Hindus of North America
67. Kerala Hindus of Northern California
68. Mahaa Lakshmi Mandir
69. Mana Samskriti
70. Mandir
71. MIP LLC
72. My Temple
73. New England Indian Christians fellowship
74. NRI JAC
75. Organization Of Hindu Malayalees
76. Osscar
77. Richa Graphics
78. River Comics
79. S-square D-square LLC
80. Sai Temple Of California
81. Sai Temple of Austin
82. Samskrita Bharati
83. Sarascare Foundation USA
84. Shiva Vishnu Temple of Greater Cleveland
85. Shree Sai Parivar
86. Shri Darshan
87. Shri Navagraha Devasthanam of NA, Inc
88. Shri Sanatan Mandir
89. Shri Surya Narayan Mandir
90. Siddhi Vinayaka Cultural Center Inc
91. SIMRA
92. Sri Balaji Temple
93. Sri Balaji Temple & Cultural Center
94. Srimanirama Educational and Cultural Foundation
95. Sukadhwani
96. Tamil Hindu
97. Telugu Association Of Greater Sacramento
98. The Hindu Temple of Atlanta, Inc
99. The Saraswati Sangam Project
100. United American Hindu Leadership Council Inc
101. United States Hindu Alliance
102. Uttar Pradesh Mandal of America
103. Uttarpur Ganesha Mandali
104. Vaanprasth Punarutthan Yagya
105. Vaishnav Samaj of Southern California
106. Vedic Cultural Center
107. Vedic Education and Devotional Academy
108. Vedic Heritage Inc
109. Vetra Inc
110. Washington Helping Hands
111. Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee
112. Whitestone Diamonds Inc
113. World Hindu Council of America (VHPA)