Seattle Becomes the First City to Ban Caste Discrimination
The Seattle City Council has passed a bill prohibiting caste discrimination in various areas, such as employment and housing. Seattle is the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to take official action against caste bias.
The new bill, CB 120511, bars employers from making employment decisions based on any “system of rigid social stratification characterized by hereditary status, and social barriers sanctioned by custom, law, or religion.”
In Hinduism and relevant religious traditions, caste refers to the four “varnas” (classes) that stratify society, namely the Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaishyas (merchants and farmers), and Shudras (artisans and laborers). It also includes those outside the caste hierarchy, such as the Dalits (formerly known as the “untouchables”) and Adivasi (indigenous peoples of India).
CB 120511 will become effective 30 days after it receives the city mayor’s signature. Once in effect, it will require employers to update their policies and educate their HR personnel on caste discrimination.
Meanwhile, the full extent of caste as a statutory term for Seattle employers remains ambiguous. Some pundits have pointed out that caste-based discrimination also exists within Muslim and Christian communities and can be found in the communal traditions of Japan, Nigeria, Somalia, Senegal, and the Middle East.
Sungjin Yun Staff Reporter
1. What is the purpose of the bill passed by the Seattle City Council?
2. What is the definition of "caste" in Hinduism and related religious traditions?
3. What will employers be required to do once the bill is in effect?
1. Why do you think it took so long for a U.S. jurisdiction to take action against caste-based discrimination?
2. Why do you think it took so long for a U.S. jurisdiction to take action against caste-based discrimination?
3. Do you think caste-based discrimination is a problem that is unique to South Asian communities, or is it a broader societal issue?
4. How can other cities and states in the U.S. address caste-based discrimination?