An umbrella organisation representing Hindu temples in Britain on Monday asked members of Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities to support the Conservative party due to its stand on the sensitive issue of outlawing caste-based discrimination.
Since 2008, efforts to bring ‘caste’ within the purview of Britain’s anti-discrimination laws have passionately divided the Indian community. The issue has dominated debates and discussions in temples and gurdwaras in the run-up to Thursday’s elections.
A range of organisations – including the National Council of Hindu Temples UK (NCHTUK) – have opposed enacting the law, lobbying ministers and MPs against it as the House of Commons and House of Lords debated various amendments and provisions over the years.
The Labour and Liberal Democrats parties support moves to enact the law, while the ruling Conservative party has accepted the position of the various groups opposing it, and has blocked or delayed legislation in the current parliament.
Caste-based discrimination is not expressly prohibited under UK equality legislation, but section 9 of the Equality Act 2010, as amended, requires the government to introduce secondary legislation to make caste an aspect of race, thereby making caste discrimination a form of race discrimination.
The Government has provisionally indicated that this legislation will be introduced in parliament during summer 2015.
Satish Sharma, general secretary of NCHTUK, said in an open letter on elections: “The Conservative Party is the only party which has consistently listened to us and voted against this legislation and whose members are committed to repealing the caste amendment if re-elected”.
Dalit communities in Britain are estimated to be 480,000 strong, and according to two reports commissioned by the government, they faced discrimination in education, employment and the provision of public goods and services. Several organisations have campaigned in support of a law banning caste-based discrimination.
The NCHTUK letter said the organisation agreed with the sentiment that “British Hindus, Sikhs & Jains voting for Labour is now like Turkeys voting for Christmas".
The letter said that the legislation was introduced without consultation with the targeted religious minority, which was “tantamount to religious persecution of Hindus, Sikhs & Jains and is in breach of the human rights of the minority Dharmic communities”. It also noted that the proposed law had been “instigated, supported and sustained” by the Labour and Liberal Democrats parties.
According to the organisation, Conservative was the only party that had rejected the process through which the legislation was introduced and discussed in parliament.
Opposing the law, Jasdev Singh Rai, general secretary of the British Sikh Consultative Forum, told HT: “This is a ridiculous situation. How can a law be introduced without knowing what the primary issue is, that what ‘caste’ is? And how can a consultation be held after the legislation?”
He added: “In fact there is no definition of the word caste in any Indian Supreme Court decision nor does it exist in the Indian constitution. It was introduced as a category by the British during colonialism and then entrenched through census forms”.
“Most Hindus and Sikhs have woken up to this fact and are now asking political parties to commit to repealing the legislation and start all over again with a transparent and independent process. It has become an election issue in UK”.