Equality Labs congratulates the city of Seattle for adding caste to its non-discrimination policy and applauds the powerful interfaith and inter-caste organizers and organizations, including API Chaya, the Ambedkar Association of North America, the Coalition of Seattle Indian Americans, the Indian American Muslim Council, National Academic Coalition for Caste Equity as well as a network of over 30 anti-caste Ambedkarite organizations such as Ambedkar King Study Circle, Ambedkar International Center, Ambedkarite Buddhist Association of Texas, Boston Study Group, Ravidassia and Sikh gurdwaras from throughout the northwest and many more who helped usher in this historic win.
With South Asian Americans becoming one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in the United States, it is critical for us to acknowledge the need to support caste oppressed communities, who are essentially minorities within this minority group, in Seattle. The ratification of the ordinance to ban caste-based discrimination in Seattle is a first in history and a culmination of years of Dalit feminist research and organizing that has broken the silence about caste oppression in our communities. We have finally found ways to initiate healing from this violent caste system in our diasporic networks and in our homelands—through the protection of this powerful ordinance.
Adding caste as a protected category in the city of Seattle’s anti-discrimination policy ensures a place of access and equity for all residents of Seattle. We commend the Seattle City council for making history with a policy that ensures an equitable future by supporting the rights of caste-oppressed. This policy change not only validates the experiences for caste-oppressed folks within the city, but it also affirms the need for institutional protections against the experiences of caste discrimination that Dalit voices nationally brough to the table. We look forward to working with the city of Seattle to help implement this historic win. Quotes from organizing leaders and key stakeholders:
Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director of Equality Labs: “Love has won over hate as Seattle has become the first in the nation to ban caste discrimination. We have braved rape threats, death threats, disinformation, and bigotry. Thank you to the 200 organizations who stood with us! Thank you to the 30 caste-oppressed civil rights organizations who spoke truth to power! Thank you all who called in, and thank you councilwoman Sawant and SeattleCouncil for standing on the right side of history! We are united as a South Asian American community in our commitment to heal from caste. First Seattle, now the nation!”
Pramila Jayapal, Congresswoman, WA-07: “Caste discrimination has no place in society anywhere in the world, including here in America. That is why some colleges and universities have banned it on campuses, and workers are fighting for their rights and their dignity in cases involving caste discrimination. I’m proud to see Seattle leading the country by taking steps to end this discrimination and ensure that all people are able to live freely and thrive.”
Shahira Bangar, Organizer “Seattle City Council, Thank you for listening and recognizing the Dalit/caste-oppressed voices such as myself who have shared our stories. This groundbreaking historic ordinance has been long overdue, but we have finally succeeded. Though the violent opposition attempted to break us through their bigotry and misinformation, the Seattle City council bravely stands with the caste-oppressed, defending us with civil rights protections. Thank you, Kshama Sawant—for bringing this legislation into fruition, and as a Dalit (caste-oppressed) Sikh woman, I have never felt more empowered. Thank you Seattle City council for sitting on the right side of history and cementing your solidarity with the caste-oppressed, for true healing and liberation will only derive from civil rights protections against caste discrimination for the oppressed. The power of Dalit feminism, inter-caste, interfaith, and a multiracial coalition wins, and that has been proven through this victory. Seattle is the first city in history to add caste protections within its anti-discrimination policy, and has set the stage for cities across the nation. Seattle city has ensured a safe city for myself and Dalits everywhere and has led by example. Now, I call to action other cities nationally to join hands in the caste equity movement and commit to justice through the implementation of caste protections. Let us all continue healing on a national and global level. Jai Bhim, Jai Savitri!”
Maya Kamble of the Ambedkar Association of North America (AANA) said: “Caste-based discrimination is a deeply entrenched and harmful practice that has no place in our society. The legislation passed with a 6-1 vote in Seattle today is a major milestone in our fight for social justice and human rights. It will not stop until we have a nationwide ban on this inhumane practice.”
Prem Pariyar, Nepali Dalit Rights Activist: “I am very proud to witness this historical moment in Seattle supporting banning caste discrimination in the city of Seattle. Equality Labs and many more organizations showed up, campaigned and shared their testimonies. They were very powerful. This historical win has given hope to many Dalits and organizers. This is personal to me. Our ancestors and coming generations will be grateful for your votes. This day will be remembered as a historical day by our coming generations.”
Aneelah Afzali, Executive Director of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound’s newly launched American Muslim Empowerment Network (MAPS-AMEN): “Today, through a powerful movement, we helped push ‘the arc of the moral universe’ toward justice, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned, by winning the first – but certainly not the last – ordinance to explicitly ban the evil of caste discrimination. This victory is a win not just for those facing caste oppression in Seattle, but for morality, humanity, and all of us who seek to build a world based on justice for all.”
Meera Patel, Member, Alphabet Workers Union: “As a caste privileged tech worker and Alphabet Workers Union member, it’s an honor to stand in solidarity with my caste oppressed coworkers. Today’s victory has proven the power of labor organizing and worker solidarity in the fight for caste equity. For AWU, caste is a civil rights and a labor issue globally and we’ve been advocating for the addition of caste protections to the company code of conduct. Seattle banning caste discrimination adds fuel to our advocacy and makes our company, tech industry, and the city of Seattle a more equitable place.
manmit singh, Organizer: “This is such a historic day today that has been years in the making! The civil rights victories that have been building across higher education institutions and unions, such as Brandeis University, UC Davis, Brown University, California State University, and California Faculty Association, are only growing, now translating into the first city taking a stand against caste discrimination! I commend the tireless and ongoing efforts from our diverse, interfaith, intercaste, and multiracial coalition. Although there is still a long way to go in ensuring caste-based civil rights for all across the country, this first and historic step deserves much celebration!”