Caste in the UK

Consultation is now closed

‘Caste’ to be excluded from the Equality Act 2010

The Government Equalities Office has finally published the results of the six-month public consultation on Caste in Great Britain and Equality Law, determining whether ‘caste’ should be included in the Equality Act 2010. Under the caste system, which is practiced most commonly on the South Asian continent, individuals are born into a lifelong hierarchical status. There is clear evidence of caste discrimination amongst the South Asian diaspora in the UK, affecting Christians, Hindus, Muslim and Sikh communities. Dalits have campaigned since 2007 for the inclusion of ‘caste’ as a protected characteristic (like race and gender) in the Equality Act 2010.

Penny Mordaunt, the Secretary for Women and Equalities, stated in parliament yesterday that “The Government’s primary concern is to ensure that legal protection against caste discrimination is sufficient, appropriate and proportionate.” In this instance, “sufficient, appropriate and proportionate” has been interpreted in such a way that future instances of caste discrimination will have to rely on case law. The full statement can be found here.

After over 16,000 responses – well above the average – tragically, the government have concluded that ‘caste’ is already covered under ‘ethnic origins’ and that including the term in legislation is both unnecessary and divisive. While pro-legislation campaigners have emphasized that this is not an issue of religious persecution, the Hindu and Sikh lobbies have seen it as just that. The full results and analysis of the consultation can be found here.

The consultation analysis seems to doubt whether caste discrimination exists in Great Britain, but this in itself creates a ‘Catch-22’: how are victims meant to report this type of discrimination if the crime is not recognised? The role of the government should be prophylactic, and clearly condemn caste discrimination in all its form via legislation, rather than waiting to see if any victims are brave enough to endure a court system that at present has only one piece of case law to reference.

Meena Varma, Director of Dalit Solidarity Network UK, has expressed her extreme disappointment over the result: “It seems that the government has decided that the issue is not significant enough to ensure legal protection. The victims of this form of discrimination will continue to suffer, as the government refuses to acknowledge that the problem exists. Emerging case law cannot provide enough protection for those subjected to caste discrimination. It usually takes years and a mountain of cases before case law stands any chance of being upheld in court. The tragedy in all of this is that it will continue to be a hidden problem as those seeking help will believe that there is scant legal recourse for them in Great Britain.”


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