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UK’s Upper House votes to ban caste discrimination

In a move that could set a precedent for Western countries, Britain’s Upper House of parliament has voted overwhelmingly to ban caste discrimination — against the wishes of the British government. Dipankar De Sarkar reports.

world Updated: Mar 05, 2013 23:11 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

In a move that could set a precedent for Western countries, Britain’s Upper House of parliament has voted overwhelmingly to ban caste discrimination — against the wishes of the British government.

The House of Lords voted 225-153 on Monday to outlaw caste discrimination, encouraging UK-based Dalit campaigners who say they now have a good chance of securing a victory when the bill reaches the House of Commons.

It must be voted upon by the end of March. The bill was backed by peers from all parties.

“A Commons victory will have a massive ripple effect,” UK-based Dalit campaigner Davinder Prasad told HT. “All 27 members of the European Union will have to take note of it. A campaign for legislation is also underway in the US.”

If passed into law, it would bring caste into the same legal protection net as gender, sexuality and race.

There are no reliable statistics, but campaigners — extrapolating figures from British as well Indian censuses — say around 40-50,000 people may be at risk in Britain.

But the coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat government indicated it will oppose the bill in the lower house.

“We do not believe that introducing specific caste-based legislation is the best way to tackle the incidents of caste-related prejudice and discrimination that have been identified — many of which occur in areas not covered by discrimination law, such as in volunteering,” a government spokesman said.