Ordinance passed by Seattle City Council ‘extraordinarily historic victory’ of oppressed caste people, says Kshama Sawant

WASHINGTON, Feb 28: The banning of caste discrimination by Seattle city despite tough resistance from several people is an “extraordinarily historic victory” of the oppressed caste across the world, Kshama Sawant, the Indian-American political leader behind the legislative move, has said, alleging that the practice is prevalent in some of the major tech giants.
Last week, Seattle became the first US city to outlaw caste discrimination after its local council passed a resolution moved by Sawant to add caste to its non-discrimination policy.
The resolution was approved by the Seattle City Council by six to one vote.
The 49-year-old politician and economist said she was able to achieve this historic feat despite a tough opposition mounted by a group of Indian-Americans, whom she described as “right-wing Hindus”, resistance from the tech companies and almost no cooperation from the Democrats.
“The ordinance that we won this past Tuesday is an extraordinarily historic victory for oppressed caste people not only in Seattle but also in the United States and in India and the rest of the world. Because this ordinance is the first-ever ban on caste discrimination,” Sawant told PTI in an interview.
Sawant, an upper-caste Hindu from Pune, migrated to the United States in the late 1990s.
Seattle is not only the first American city to do so, but is the first jurisdiction of any level globally outside South Asia to ban caste discrimination.
“So this is an absolutely earth-shattering victory because this is the first time outside South Asia that the law has decided that caste discrimination is not going to be invisible eyes, but instead it’s going to be codified in the law that it is illegal,” she said.
The principal mechanism with which the new law works is that it gives the right to any caste-oppressed worker who is facing discrimination at the workplace to sue the corporation.
“Obviously victories in the courts are not going to be automatic because the judicial system under capitalism is not on the side of workers and the oppressed,” she said, adding that winning such victories in the court will itself be a fight for the working people.
Sawant said she had to face tough resistance from the “Hindu right-wing” and also an “entrenched Democratic establishment which did not want this ordinance to pass. Many Indian-Americans have opposed the move, fearing that codifying caste in public policy will further fuel instances of Hinduphobia in the US.
“We had to build a powerful rank-and-file United movement that was able to overcome these forces of opposition,” she said.
Sawant said the only reason she was able to do that was because of her socialist, or Marxist City Council Office, her organisation Socialist Alternative and many Dalit-oppressed caste-led organisations.
Incidents of caste-based discrimination have increased rapidly, she said in response to a question.
This form of discrimination, she said, is being under-reported in the country in general and her city of Seattle in particular because there are many oppressed-caste workers who are “justifiably” afraid of reprisals if they come out and openly speak about the discrimination that they’re facing in the workplace.
“In addition to the statistical evidence, we’ve also seen hundreds of workers throughout the US and also hundreds of workers in Seattle. In the process of fighting this legislation, we have heard hundreds of courageous, oppressed-caste workers speak openly about the discrimination that they face,” she said.
“We are primarily talking about the workplace, but I don’t believe that it’s only limited to the workplace. But that’s where you have most of the data and testimonials from hundreds of workers especially in the tech sector and Seattle being one of the tech hubs it’s not surprising that we have seen many cases of oppressed workers speaking up about the discrimination that they’re facing,” she said.
This discrimination, she noted, comes all the way from being denied raises or promotions, or having bad appraisals or peer reviews, just because of being from an oppressed cast, not because of their workplace-based performance; to a daily dose of derogatory remarks, slurs are other ways of being targeted because of being from a lower caste.
“As far as the tech sector is concerned, I can also share that it really runs the spectrum, all the way from IBM to Google, Amazon, Cisco and Microsoft,” she said. Sawant hoped that this “extraordinarily historic victory” will help build courage and also solidarity among the oppressed-caste workers for them to be able to speak more openly.
“I would imagine that if there is more momentum around this issue if you’re able to win more big trees on this issue, we will probably see more and more evidence of this type of thing happening in other spheres as well, whether it’s education or more in social settings,” she said.
The victory in the Seattle City Council, she said, has electrified the vast majority of workers and oppressed caste. She noted that she and her team are receiving a large number of emails from India, the US and other parts of the world in support of the ordinance.
The best way to protect the victory in Seattle is to also win it in other cities, he asserted. (PTI)