South Asian community says NO to racist Seattle caste ordinance


While condemning all forms of discrimination, the letter from over 100 organizations and businesses expressed serious concerns about the proposed ordinance by Councilmember Kshama Sawant.


In an unprecedented show of solidarity, a diverse coalition of over 100 organizations and businesses wrote to the Seattle City Council urging them to vote NO on the proposed caste ordinance, which is based on faulty data from hate groups and will violate the civil rights of the South Asian community. Led by the Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), the letter’s signatories include Dalit and Bahujan community groups, major Hindu and Jain temples, cultural and social organizations, business groups as well as non-Hindu groups such as the Iranian Students Association and the New England Indian Christian Forum.

The letter expressed shock and outrage that the city council is entertaining such a proposal, which peddles bigotry and singles out the South Asian community by using racist, colonial tropes of “caste” and ensures that the community is subject to special scrutiny and tramples up their rights to freedom of religion and equal protection.

“In effect, the proposed ordinance assumes that an entire community – primarily Hindu-Americans – are guilty of ‘caste’ based discrimination unless they are somehow proven innocent,” remarked Nikunj Trivedi, president of CoHNA. “This is un-American and wrong. It also smacks of McCarthyism, targeting people for their suspected beliefs.”

Indeed, a plain reading of the proposed ordinance makes it clear that it targets one community and one religion – Hinduism – in particular. Such a bill can actually lead to greater discrimination against South Asians in general as any business – South Asian owned or not – can hesitate to hire talent from the community to avoid further complications and potential litigations.

The letter also questioned 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.

Furthermore, the proposed ordinance fails to provide any evidence of systemic discrimination among South Asians in Seattle that would justify the need for such a law and rehashes tired old tropes, unproven allegations and opinions of privileged Ivy League professors and well connected professional activists as “evidence.”

The only case offered as “evidence” of systemic discrimination (Cisco vs California Civil Rights Department) has not had a single word of testimony offered in open court yet. Recent court filings in that case also show that there was an expectation that the charges against the defendants would be dropped.

Adding to that, the legislation has been rushed to a full council vote in secret with one-sided representation. Councilmember Sawant has used the provision under City Rules III (A)1(c) to bypass the normally required Committee hearing for this ordinance. This precluded the bill from being discussed in Committee with other council members or from receiving proper public scrutiny and comment. The ordinance has been put on the council’s agenda for a vote with just a few days notice and in secret.

While the supporting documents submitted to the council list a number of supporters of the bill, it completely hides the fact that several thousand emails and letters were sent to the council opposing the bill.

The ordinance is a serious abuse of the exception process that allows the council to vote on issues that have not been cleared by Committee. Councilmember Sawant has taken this step to avoid a broad discussion of her proposal. As such, CoHNA believes that the council will be partaking in a grave abuse of process in enacting an ordinance that squarely targets the minority Hindu American community without so much as a hearing.

The letter concluded by strongly urging the council 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.

A full copy of the letter and the signatories can be found here.

Pushpita Prasad