On Monday August 7, 2023, in a unanimous vote, the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates passed Resolution 513, empowering the ABA to join the important work of combating caste-based discrimination in the United States and across the world. Equality Labs sees the report and resolution—which highlights the need for clear laws, regulations, policies, and guidelines that protect Dalits and other caste-oppressed communities—as a resounding statement in support of emerging legislation that aims to make prohibitions against caste-based discrimination explicit.
This milestone policy was the result of steady and long-term collaboration between bar organizations, civil society actors, activists, and community organizers, working at both the national and local levels. Equality Labs, the Caste Equity Legal Task Force, the South Asian Bar Association, legal scholars and other experts in the field worked alongside a broad coalition of leaders across ABA and National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) to crystalize the issue and to educate the legal community. By making community support and civic education a priority for passage of the report and resolution, the ABA allowed the resolution to be informed by a wide variety of inputs, outlooks and perspectives, which ultimately led to text that honors the beliefs and needs of the caste-oppressed community, which has been historically excluded and subjected to extreme violence for centuries.
The report and resolution urge action to uplift and protect those at the lowest rung in the caste system, including and especially Dalits—the word for “broken”. Dalits form the world’s largest caste-oppressed community. Caste domination is a type of oppression that is solidified through stigma, segregation, and labor market segmentation, making caste equity an urgent civil rights issue. Caste-based discrimination currently pervades multiple sectors of American society. Equality Labs data found that 25% of Dalits have faced verbal or physical assault based on their caste and 1 out of 3 Dalit students reported discrimination in the classroom based on their caste, though having a caste identity or having experienced caste-based violence is not exclusive to any one culture or religion.
“As one of the few lawyers from an oppressed caste background, I am so grateful for Equality Labs, the global caste equity movement, and the fine intersectional and humanist platform they have been building for so many years. Their work is driven by a desire for individual freedom and democracy that I connect to deeply, both as an American and a person from an oppressed caste background,” said Lakshmi Gopal, attorney-at-law.
The report accompanying Resolution 513 states “There are caste-oppressed Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and agnostics, as well as Sikhs. Even in North America, caste is a sticky identity that follows people wherever they settle—across space and time. A 2021 Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS) revealed that many Indian Americans report being victims of caste discrimination.”
The passage of HOD 513 reaffirms the crucial role of Dalit leadership and organizing in advancing and protecting the core values of the American civil rights system. In passing this report and resolution, the ABA responds to the national and global calls for caste equity by aligning itself with those seeking to abolish the longstanding system of subordination. Forged with strong support from across the bar, civil society, and the academic community, the resolution leaves no doubt that to effectively end caste discrimination, we must acknowledge it and act quickly to explicitly outlaw it.