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.
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. 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 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 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” 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 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.
List of Signatories (in Alphabetical Order):
|113. World Hindu Council of America (VHPA)