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Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019

UK human rights body wants to revive caste law

Harriet Harman, JCHR chair, wrote to Penny Mordaunt, minister for women and equalities, last week, insisting that legal prohibition from such racial discrimination is needed to provide real protection.

world Updated: Jun 29, 2019 22:40 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Harriet Harman, JCHR chair
Harriet Harman, JCHR chair(REUTERS file photo)
         

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) comprising MPs and members of the House of Lords wants the Theresa May government to reconsider its July 2018 decision not to legislate to ban caste-based discrimination, calling it a “real issue in the UK”.

The 1.5 million-strong Indian community has been deeply divided on the issue, with influential lobbies denying caste-based discrimination exists, stating that enacting such a law would entrench ideas of caste where none exist, while Dalit and other groups insist it exists.

Harriet Harman, JCHR chair, wrote to Penny Mordaunt, minister for women and equalities, last week, insisting that legal prohibition from such racial discrimination is needed to provide real protection. Reviving the debate has been welcomed by the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance that campaigns for the law.

After years of consultations, research and debate inside and outside parliament on the sensitive issue, the May government decided in July 2018 not to legislate but rely on emerging case law in courts to deal with cases of caste-based discrimination.

Caste-based discrimination is not expressly prohibited under Britain’s equality legislation, but section 9 of the Equality Act 2010 requires the government to introduce secondary legislation to make caste an aspect of race, thereby making caste discrimination a form of race discrimination. The May government decided to repeal the provision.

Harman (Labour) wrote to Mordaunt: “The Government has failed to legislate, as required by Parliament under that Act. Moreover, we note that you announced the Government’s intention to repeal that provision and instead to rely on the development of case law to prohibit caste discrimination based on ethnic origin. We have significant concerns with that proposal”.

“We are concerned that the Government’s proposed reliance on the development of case law around the prohibition on racial discrimination based solely on ethnic origin (and not descent) will not adequately prohibit caste discrimination”, she added.

Britain’s political parties are divided on the issue. The Conservative government is seen to be close to influential Hindu-Sikh-Jain groups that oppose the law, while Labour and Liberal Democrats are on the pro-law side.

Following a consultation on the issue, the government decided in July 2018 against enacting the law: “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”.

First Published: Jun 29, 2019 22:39 IST

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