Seattle’s City Council is likely to ban caste-based discrimination. The Associated Press reports:
[Seattle City Council member Kshama] Sawant has proposed an ordinance to add caste to Seattle’s anti-discrimination laws. If her fellow council members approve it Tuesday, Seattle will become the first city in the United States to specifically outlaw caste discrimination….
The national debate in the United States around caste has been centered in the South Asian community, causing deep divisions within the diaspora. Dalit activist-led organizations such as Oakland, California-based Equality Labs, say caste discrimination is prevalent in diaspora communities, surfacing in the form of social alienation and discrimination in housing, education and the tech sector where South Asians hold key roles….
Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation, called Seattle’s proposed ordinance unconstitutional because “it singles out and targets an ethnic minority and seeks to institutionalize implicit bias toward a community.”
“It sends that message that we are an inherently bigoted community that must be monitored,” Shukla said.
Caste is already covered under the current set of anti-discrimination laws, which provide protections for race, ethnicity and religion, she said.
A law professor notes that it is actually not clear whether current antidiscrimination laws cover caste discrimination. If a caste could be historically traced back to a particular ethnic group (say, Dravidians subordinated by invading Aryans), then discrimination against that caste would likely be prohibited by federal or state laws against racial and ethnic discrimination.
California’s Unruh Act — dealing with discrimination in public accommodations — is so broad in what types of discrimination it forbids (it bans discrimination against essentially all social, as opposed to economic, groups), that caste-based discrimination is already covered by it, even when caste is not tied to ethnicity or complexion.
But it does not appear that Washington State has a similarly broad law.
No court would find it unconstitutional for a city or state to ban discrimination based on caste just because Indian Americans are disproportionately likely to commit — or be victims — of such discrimination.
As GMU law professor David Bernstein notes, this controversy highlights the absurdity of America’s current “racial classification system. India is an extremely internally diverse of 1.5 billion people, with many different ethnic groups, languages, and religions, and of course a longstanding caste system. Yet when Indians immigrate to the US, they become generic ‘Asian Americans’ by government fiat, and when university consider their ‘diversity’ goals, any Indian American, regardless of appearance, religion, caste, language and so on, is not only considered indistinguishable from any other Indian American, but also from a Chinese, Filipino, or Vietnamese American.”