UK government won't outlaw caste-discrimination after lobbying from Hindu and Sikh groups
By Barfi Culture Team
24th July 2018

In 2015, Labour candidate Uma Kumaran (pictured) suddenly found herself targeted by an underhanded campaign in Harrow East, London.

An anonymous leaflet claimed Labour were "committed to brand (sic) every Dharmic (Hindu) parent and children child living today and forever as being born casteists." It urged them to vote for Tory MP Bob Blackman. The leaflet was completely untrue of course but it helped him get re-elected. India's dirty caste politics had come to Britain.

But despite earlier claims to the contrary, the UK government refuses to do much about it.

Government minister Penny Mordaunt announced on Monday that they had decided not to make a specific provision for caste discrimination in the Equality Act, provoking outrage from civil rights and Dalit groups. Some Hindu and Sikh groups welcomed the decision.

Caste discrimination could be equated to discrimination on the basis of "ethnic origin", the minister said, so it would covered by existing laws against race discrimination. Critics said this still denied justice to many and did not go far enough.

So what does this mean?

"After careful consideration of all the points raised in the consultation (on caste discrimination), we have decided to invite Parliament to repeal the duty because it is now sufficiently clear that the Equality Act provides this protection," said Penny Mordaunt MP yesterday.

"The judgment of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Tirkey v Chandhok shows that someone claiming caste discrimination may rely on the existing statutory remedy where they can show that their “caste” is related to their ethnic origin, which is itself an aspect of race discrimination in the Equality Act," she added.

The government is saying it won't bring a new law to ban caste discrimination because the courts had set a precedent doing so anyway. It is telling the legal community it expects caste discrimination to be treated as illegal. But it won't make a specific provision for it, yet.

Why is this controversial?

The UK government's own research estimated that at least 50,000+ Britons are regarded by some as "low caste" and found evidence of caste-based discrimination. This was in the form of harassment and bullying at work, discrimination in education and provision of services.

In 2013 the government said it would make caste an aspect of race so it would automatically be covered by race discrimination. But after strong lobbying from Hindu groups, which civil rights groups say are dominated by upper-castes, the government opened the amendment up to consultation.

The proposed change had been agreed by Parliament and endorsed by the UN, and supported by the government's own Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

The negative reaction

Sat Pal Muman, Chair of CasteWatchUK, told The Hindu: "The government has sent a depressing message to the Dalit community that their cause is not important and they will continue to face discrimination with impunity. … This clearly means the victims will not have any legal protection and have to go through pensive long-drawn legal battle to get justice," he added.

The National Secular Society: "Legislation outlawing caste discrimination is the only way to provide legal protection at a reasonable cost. Case law remedies are uncertain and ruinously expensive as has already been demonstrated in the courts, where no one has yet succeeded in making a case."

"The Government clearly feels under pressure not to upset high caste Hindus, both in the UK and India. But the decision flies in the face of repeated pleas from the United Nations and there may yet be legal means to challenge it."

Labour’s equalities spokeswoman Dan Butler MP said: "It is very disappointing that the Government has performed a U-turn on the decision to bring caste discrimination under equality law. Caste-based prejudice and discrimination is a gross violation of human rights and must not be tolerated."

Welcoming the decision

Anil Bhanot, chair of the Ethnic Minority Foundation: "Such a legislation would have further divided our communities when our youth here have grown up not even aware of such caste identities. We do not condone any type of discrimination and there already are laws to protect people being discriminated under ethnicity of the Race Relations Act 1976."

National Council of Hindu Temples UK: "In doing so the Government will be effectively reversing the harm caused by the Lord Harries amendment and the first step towards restoring community cohesion and tranquillity will have been taken. The harm done to Interfaith and especially Hindu Christian relations, will take significantly longer."

The Sikh Federation UK: "Sikhs welcome the UK government has backed off on anti-caste discrimination legislation. A repeal of the legislation that has been announced provides an opportunity to change the definition in the explanatory notes to the Equality Act 2010 and remove the erroneous and offensive reference to Sikhs."

We asked if the Sikh MP Preet Gill agreed with her colleague Dawn Butler or the Sikh Federation, but she did not respond.

A Channel 4 report on the issue

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