From Pune to Seattle: Meet socialist Kshama Sawant, force behind Seattle law against caste-discrimination

From Pune to Seattle: Meet socialist Kshama Sawant, force behind Seattle law against caste-discrimination

Born to Vasundhara and HT Ramanujam in Pune in 1973, Sawant grew up in Mumbai where she later studied computer science and graduated with a BS from the University of Mumbai in 1994.

AgenciesUpdated: Tuesday, March 28, 2023, 05:21 PM IST
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A landmark law banning caste-based discrimination came into effect in the US city of Seattle, making it the first city outside India to enforce such legislation.

Who is the woman behind this law?

The resolution was moved last month by Kshama Sawant, an Indian-American politician, and economist. Born to Vasundhara and HT Ramanujam in Pune in 1973, Sawant grew up in Mumbai where she later studied computer science and graduated with a BS from the University of Mumbai in 1994.

Sawant married her husband Vivek, an engineer at Microsoft, and moved to the United States. After moving to the United States Sawant decided to abandon the computer engineering field.

She began to pursue study in economics due to what she described as her own "questions of economic inequality." She entered the economics programme at North Carolina State University where she earned a PhD. She became a United States citizen in 2010.

What is the Seattle caste law?

Seattle's law now prohibits businesses from discriminating based on caste with respect to hiring, tenure, promotion, workplace conditions, or wages. 

It will ban discrimination based on caste in places of public accommodation, such as hotels, public transportation, public restrooms, or retail establishments, she said, adding that the law also prohibits housing discrimination based on caste in rental housing leases, property sales, and mortgage loans.

Describing it as the biggest breakthrough for the global fight against caste oppression in many decades, Sawant said it has opened the floodgates for potentially winning such a ban on caste discrimination in other cities and states in the US as well.

Last week, California State Senator Aisha Wahab, the first Muslim and Afghan American elected to the state legislature, also introduced the bill seeking to explicitly ban caste discrimination.

Many Indian Americans fear that codifying caste in public policy will further fuel instances of Hinduphobia in the US.

Over the last three years, ten Hindu temples and five statues, including those of Mahatma Gandhi and Maratha emperor Shivaji, have been vandalised across the US as an intimidation tactic against the Hindu community.

Indian Americans are the second-largest immigrant group in the US.

According to data from the 2018 American Community Survey, which is conducted by the US Census Bureau, there are 4.2 million people of Indian origin residing in the United States.

India banned caste discrimination in 1948 and enshrined that policy in the Constitution in 1950. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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