Wednesday, February 22, 2023. The Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), along with numerous organizations who had signed a joint letter opposing Seattle City Council’s proposed caste ordinance, condemned the council’s decision to include caste as part of its anti-discrimination policy. The groups, while fully supporting attempts to tackle discrimination, raised concerns that such serious allegations require data showing systemic abuse – a standard the city had failed to meet by relying on faulty data that was also pointed out in the survey from Carnegie Endowment in 2021.
“This law itself is inherently discriminatory because, unlike other categories such as race, gender, religion, ancestry, etc. it singles out the South Asian community as requiring special monitoring,” remarked CoHNA President Nikunj Trivedi. “In taking this step, the city has relied on information from groups that have openly called for a dismantling of Hinduism – thus becoming an avenue for platforming hate against a minority group. It seems Seattle city is also openly saying that South Asians require more monitoring than all other groups.”
“I was disappointed at how my voice was ignored. The council gave voice only to selected voices, without taking into consideration the fact that not all groups in the Dalit-Bahajun community support such a divisive and discriminatory bill,” added CoHNA Steering Committee member and Dalit community activist Aldrin Deepak.
Despite close to twenty thousand emails, numerous testimonials, and a letter signed by over 113 diverse organizations and businesses which include Dalit Bahujan groups, the council decided to rush through this hearing without proper due diligence, in a secretive rushed manner, pushing it through without input from all sides and without even a discussion in committee. Indeed, while watching the proceedings and dynamics on the ground, one could not help but wonder whether many of the council members had already made up their mind even before hearing arguments from both sides.
“It was totally rushed, even on the ground,” remarked CoHNA General Secretary Shobha Swamy, who flew in from Atlanta to join local level volunteers and community members at the hearing. “The council failed to do proper due diligence and take into account the lack of data while creating a law that can have serious implications for the South Asian community and for Seattle.”
These sentiments were also expressed by councilwoman Sara Nelson, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the ordinance. Nelson observed that the ordinance was based on lack of adequate data and can perpetuate anti-Hindu discrimination on an issue that is deeply divisive.
In doing so, Seattle has risked violating the civil rights of the South Asian community and taking on the costly burden of implementing this baseless new ordinance, at a time when its residents are reeling under growing crime, layoffs and homelessness.
CoHNA will continue the fight for justice and equality in the light of the city’s decision to violate the religious freedom guaranteed under the US constitution and Washington State Law and discriminate against a minority community.
CoHNA is a grassroots level advocacy and civil rights organization dedicated to improving the understanding of Hinduism in North America by working on matters related to the Hindu community and by educating the public about Hindu heritage and tradition. For more information, please visit https://cohna.org or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cohnaofficial, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cohnaofficial and on Instagram at www.instagram.com/cohnaofficial.