The UK government on Monday concluded that caste discrimination among the Indian community does not require separate legislation and said it can be covered as part of emerging case law in the country.
The ‘Caste in Great Britain and Equality Law – A Public Consultation’ had been launched in March last year to gather the public’s views on how best to ensure that there is “appropriate legal protection” against caste discrimination in Britain.
“Having given careful and detailed consideration to the findings of the consultation, the 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 UK government’s Equalities Office said in its conclusion released.
“We were not persuaded by the argument that introducing explicit legislation into domestic law was the most appropriate and proportionate way to provide the necessary legal protection against discrimination because of caste,” it adds.
The issue has deeply divided the Indian community in the UK, with Dalit rights groups campaigning for years for distinct legal protection against caste discrimination and other groups claiming that any move to legislate the issue would entrench divisions that are not relevant to the British Indian community.
“The government has sent a depressing message to the Dalits that their cause is not important as they continue to face discrimination with impunity,” said Sat Pal Muman, Chair of Castewatch UK, a group campaigning in favour of anti-caste legislation over the years.
He said the government had “sold out” to the opposing side, claiming that it was a “political decision in the interest of votes”.
“This clearly means the victims will not have any legal protection and have to go through expensive long-drawn legal battles to get justice,” he added.
The groups that had campaigned against separate caste-based legislation welcomed the government’s conclusion as a boost to “community cohesion”.
Anil Bhanot, chair of the Ethnic Minority Foundation and Founding Member of 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.
“Such a legislation would have further divided our communities when our youth here have grown up not even aware of such caste identities. We do not condone any type of discrimination and there already are laws to protect people being discriminated under ethnicity of the Race Relations Act 1976.”
The UK government defines “caste” as a hereditary, endogamous (marrying within the group) community associated with a traditional occupation and ranked accordingly on a perceived scale of ritual purity.
“It is generally (but not exclusively) associated with South Asia, particularly India, and its diaspora. It can encompass the four classes (varnas) of Hindu tradition (the Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra communities), the thousands of regional Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Muslim or other religious groups known as ‘jatis’; and groups amongst South Asian Muslims called ‘biradaris’. Some ‘jatis’ regarded as below the varna hierarchy (once termed “untouchable”) are known as Dalits,” an explanatory note to the UK’s Equality Act 2010 reads.
Following a long-drawn campaign by UK-based Dalit groups, the House of Lords had voted in March 2013 in favour of outlawing caste discrimination by including it as a category in anti-racism laws. The government responded with the public consultation process, which has now concluded after analysing over 16,000 responses.
The consultation’s conclusion describes the issue as an “exceptionally controversial one”, adding that not creating a separate legal category was “the more proportionate approach given the extremely low numbers of cases involved and the clearly controversial nature of introducing ‘caste’, as a self-standing element, into British domestic law”.
The government noted that should there be any question that the established case law is under challenge, it would consider intervention in order to support the existing legal interpretation of the interaction between caste and ethnic origins.