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UK announces new consultation on outlawing caste-based discrimination

Caste-based discrimination is not expressly prohibited under Britain’s equality legislation and the new consultation will ensure there is appropriate legal protection.

world Updated: Mar 28, 2017 22:10 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
caste-based discrimination,Britain,Dalit communities
Groups such as Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance allege Dalit communities face discrimination in the UK.(Reuters File)

The British government on Tuesday announced a new consultation on introducing legislation to outlaw caste-based discrimination, potentially setting the stage for another row among contending groups in the Indian community.

There has been much lobbying to support and oppose such legislation, with research reports on the issue coming in for much criticism. Groups such as Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance allege Dalit communities face discrimination in the UK.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) said the consultation is to seek views from people on how best to ensure that there is appropriate legal protection against caste discrimination. The ban could be applied by either formally making caste an aspect of race in the Equality Act 2010 or by developing case law in the courts and employment tribunals.

“In either case, businesses and public authorities would have to consider caste discrimination in the same way they consider other aspects of race discrimination when dealing with employees, customers or service users,” it said.

The consultation will close on July 17.

In the past, India has objected at international forums to the notion that caste is an aspect of race.

Caste-based discrimination is not expressly prohibited under Britain’s 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.

“We want to hear from members of those communities who may encounter caste discrimination in their daily lives as well as the wider public, businesses, service providers educational and other institutions, and public authorities...This government does not believe or accept that categorising or treating people by reference to their origins, in particular their caste, is acceptable,” GEO said.

“Both Parliament and the employment tribunals have indicated ways of preventing this through the Equality Act 2010 – Parliament by a duty to specify caste in the Act itself, the tribunals through acknowledging that caste is, at least in certain circumstances, an aspect of ethnic origin and is thus already covered, to that extent, by the Act. This consultation seeks views on which approach is the better course,” it added.

According to the timetable announced under the previous David Cameron government, the key secondary legislation was to be introduced in 2015, but this did not happen. The Conservative Party accepts the position of various Hindu, Sikh and other groups opposing such a law, while Labour and Liberal Democrats support it.

Satish Sharma, general secretary of the National Council of Hindu Temples UK, said in an open letter on the eve of the last 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.”

The Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance comprising caste-based and other groups, said when Prime Minister Theresa May took over in August 2016: “We have a new Prime Minister who says she is committed to fighting injustice in the UK and that she has a vision of a country that ‘works for everyone – not just the privileged few’.

“We hope this vision plays out in practice and we have written to the PM calling on her to outlaw caste discrimination without any further delay. We are also pursuing all other options to ensure that victims and future victims of caste-based discrimination the UK (no matter what their caste) are legally protected.”

In a landmark September 2015 judgement , a woman from Jharkhand who faced many restrictions and difficult conditions while working for an Indian-origin couple in Britain was awarded £184,000 in a case that involved overtones of caste-based discrimination.

Supporters of the anti-caste discrimination law hailed the judgement, while critics welcomed the compensation, but opposed its caste angle.

First Published: Mar 28, 2017 21:42 IST