The bold Indian-American woman behind the first ban on caste discrimination in the United States!


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USA (Commonwealth Union)_ Seattle became the first city in the United States to prohibit caste discrimination, and the person behind this historical move is an Indian American woman activist. Yes! Kshama Sawant, the lone Indian American on the Seattle city council, introduced a “first-in-the-nation” legislation to ban caste-based discrimination. Sawant expressed her hope that the historical law will serve as a “beacon” for other towns to follow. She said, “This bill is not technically complicated, it’s a very simple question: Should discrimination based on caste be allowed to continue in Seattle?”

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Ambedkar International Center, Inc (AIC) and other US-based civil rights organizations petitioned the Seattle City Council to prohibit caste-based discrimination and collaborated closely with Sawant, the Coalition of Seattle Indian-Americans (CSAI), Equality Labs, and the Ambedkar Association of North America in order to draft the proposed ordinance. This legislation is significant because it recognizes and addresses a kind of prejudice that is generally disregarded in the United States. In addition, it not only recognizes the reality of caste-based prejudice, but also takes tangible measures to prevent and protect individuals from casteism.

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Kshama Sawant belongs to the highest caste Hindu Brahmin family of India. One of Kshama Sawant’s first recollections of the caste system was hearing her grandpa, a guy she otherwise liked very much, use a derogatory term to call their lower-caste servant. She was just six years old when she questioned her grandfather’s usage of a pejorative term when he knew the girl’s name. His response was that his granddaughter was too talkative. Sawant, the 50-year-old activist, stated in front of the Seattle City Council that caste prejudice prevails everywhere. South Asian Americans and other immigrant workers endure discrimination in the workplace, notably in the IT industry in Seattle, as well as other locations.

Sawant reported that the council got more than 4,000 emails in favor of the ordinance. She added that caste prejudice is increasing in Seattle, as evidenced by the countless heartbreaking incidents that have happened in the past several weeks. As per the information on the Seattle City Council website, Kshama Sawant is a teacher, activist, organizer, and socialist; she is not a professional politician. After her career as a computer engineer, she moved to the United States to pursue her studies in economics in order to better comprehend the roots of injustice and poverty. But Sawant was astonished by the disparity and poverty in the richest country in the world.

Kshama shifted to Seattle after receiving her PhD and started her teaching career at Seattle Central Community College, Seattle University, and the University of Washington Tacoma. Since joining Socialist Alternative in 2006, she has helped organize rallies for marriage equality, engaged in the campaign to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and been a prominent member of the Occupy Movement. Kshama has also been an activist in her union, American Federation of Teachers Local 1789, battling budget cuts and tuition increases. Sawant ran for the WA State Legislature in 2012 as a Socialist Alternative candidate, but she lost.

During her campaign for Seattle City Council, she won against a 16-year Democratic incumbent and became the first socialist to be elected in a major US city in decades. According to Kshama Sawant’s statement, the law prohibits caste-based discrimination in public accommodations, including hotels, public transit, public bathrooms, and retail outlets. The rule would also outlaw caste-based housing discrimination in rental housing leases, property sales, and mortgage loans. The passage of the bill is a milestone success for the South Asian American community, which has long fought for the United States to recognize caste-based prejudice.


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