UK government decides not to enact law on caste discrimination among Indians, community divided
After years of consultations, research and debate inside and outside parliament on the sensitive issue of outlawing caste-based discrimination, the Theresa May government on Monday decided not to legislate but rely on emerging case-law in courts.
The 1.5 million-strong Indian community has been deeply divided on the issue, with influential Hindu, Sikh and Jain lobbies denying that caste-based discrimination exists in Britain, stating that enacting such a law would entrench ideas of caste where none exist, while several individuals, Dalit and other groups insist it exists.
The issue has been of interest to New Delhi, which has opposed clubbing 'caste' with 'race' in international fora in the past. The Government Equalities Office (GEO) said it is “not persuaded” that introducing explicit legislation was the best way to protect against caste based discrimination.
The result of the consultation was hailed by Hindu groups while Dalit groups expressed disappointment. Enacting the law was supported by several campaign groups and individuals, including prominent Mumbai-born sculptor, Anish Kapoor.
Anil Bhanot of the Hindu Council UK said: “We have worked hard to promote community cohesion for the last 20 years to unite all Hindu and Sikh communities, whatever caste, as one British Indian integrated community into the country's evolving and dynamic culture”.
Accusing the May government of “selling out” to the influential lobbies, Sat Pal Munim of Castewatch UK said: “The government has sent a depressing message to the Dalits that their cause is not important as they continue to face discrimination with impunity”.
GEO said: “Having given careful and detailed consideration to the findings of the consultation, Government believes that the best way to provide the necessary protection against unlawful discrimination because of caste is by relying on emerging case-law as developed by courts and tribunals”.
“The inability to define ‘caste’ within the legislation, even if an effective and suitable definition could be agreed on, presented a significant complication to introducing a concept into law that would potentially be open to a variety of interpretations”.
“We consider that the flexibility that case-law provides gives the greatest scope for any cases brought before the courts to take account of the particular facts of a case and evolve naturally to ensure that the necessary protection is provided”.
The Conservative government is seen to be close to the Hindu-Sikh-Jain groups that oppose the law, while Labour and Liberal Democrats are on the pro-law side. Conservative MP from Harrow East Bob Blackman - considered close to Hindu groups - calls the legislation “ill thought-out, divisive and unnecessary”.
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.
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 pounds in a case that involved overtones of caste-based discrimination.