Published: August 29, 2010 16:59 IST | Updated: August 29, 2010 16:59
IST LONDON, August 29, 2010

U.K. set to recognize caste discrimination as racism
Hassan Suroor

Britain is set to become the first European country to recognise caste
discrimination as a form of racism and declare it unlawful under the
race laws following a long campaign by the country’s estimated 200,000
Dalits and a report last year alleging widespread caste-based

A provision has already been made in the new Equality Act adopted
recently empowering the Government to declare “caste to be an aspect
of race’’ without having to resort to fresh legislation.

Clause 9 of the Act says: “The fact that a racial group comprises two
or more distinct racial groups does not prevent it from constituting a
particular racial group. A Minister of the Crown may by order—(a)
amend this section so as to provide for caste to be an aspect of

The Government will be guided by the report of a study it has
commissioned to determine the extent of alleged caste discrimination.
The report by the National Institute of Social and Economic Research,
a leading independent research body, is expected in the autumn.

CasteWatchUK, Britain’s oldest Dalit campaign group, claims that it is
no longer a question of “if” but “when’’ an official announcement is

“We have provided enough evidence to researchers and have no doubt in
our minds that their report will be positive. Besides, we have full
faith in the fairness of the British state. The fact that they have
included it in the equality act is half the battle won. It is not a
question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ it happens,’’ Davinder Prasad, general
secretary of CasteWatch, told The Hindu.

Campaigners claim cross-party support pointing out that MPs from all
parties backed the move during the debate in Parliament.

“The only reluctant voices were of Asian MPs,” said Lekh Pall, general
secretary of the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA), an
umbrella group.

India’s official position is that casteism cannot be equated with
racism and it has opposed such moves at international forums. Any
British move could set a precedent for other countries to follow suit.

The issue has divided Britain’s Indian community and right-wing groups
such as the Hindu Forum of Britain have launched a counter-campaign
questioning the right of the Government to intervene in what it claims
is their internal affair.

"There has been some criticism against the caste system with regards
to the treatment of Dalits in the Britain. However, it is not right
for the UK Government to take a position on the rites, beliefs or
practices of a particular religion. Social interactions and personal
choices are an expression of people's freedom, and any barriers should
be removed through education and awareness, not through legislation,"
said the Forum’s Secretary-general Ramesh Kallidai.

In a report, “Caste in the UK’’, the Forum denied claims of caste
discrimination saying its own research had found that it was “not
endemic in British society’’.

However, a study—“Hidden Apartheid, Voice of the Community, Caste and
Caste Discrimination in the UK’’-- by ACDA in collaboration with
academics from the universities of Hertfordshire and Manchester and
Manchester Metropolitan University, concluded that there was “clear
evidence’’ of widespread caste-based discrimination.

“There is clear evidence from the survey and the focus groups that the
caste system has been imported into the UK with the Asian diaspora and
that the associated caste discrimination affects citizens in ways
beyond personal choices and social interaction. There is a danger that
if the UK government does not effectively accept and deal with the
issue of caste discrimination the problem will grow unchecked,” it

The report claimed that “tens of thousands of people in the workplace,
the classroom and even the doctor’s surgery’’ suffered discrimination
because of their caste. Forty-five per cent of the respondents alleged
they had either been treated negatively by co-workers or had comments
made about their caste. Nine per cent felt they had been denied
promotion, and ten per cent said they had been paid less because of
their caste. Some also claimed that they faced ``threats’’.

Campaigners have threatened to take their case to the European Court
of Human Rights if the British Government fails to act.


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