By Vicky Ramsden, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy
At the end of last month, the UK government made the controversial decision to ban discrimination on the basis of caste. The decision was accepted by the House of Commons, the lower chamber of the UK legislative, after the House of Lords had voted in favor of the act for the second time. This is a major U-turn on government policy, as the House of Commons had previously blocked any previous attempts to include Caste as a form of discrimination. However, as a result of this new legislature, Britain is now the first country outside South Asia to make this form of discrimination illegal.
The 2010 Equality Act previously stated that discrimination on the basis of race included someone’s color, ethnicity, or national origin, however did not explicitly refer to caste. Under the revised Equality Act, discrimination on the basis of caste will now be treated as an aspect of race and therefore outlawed. Thus, providing the same legal protection, as extended to those discriminated against on the basis of gender, race or sexuality. The legislature will affect the estimated 400,000 Dailts, or so-called untouchables, who currently live in the United Kingdom.
Evidence has shown that Dailts in the UK have faced discrimination in various fields including education, employment and the provision of public goods and services. Reports have shown that they are often forced to do poorly paid, menial and demining work. The changes in legislature will hopefully provide a change in community and societal relations. The change in government policy has been welcomed by Human Rights groups, such as CasteWatch UK. However, concerns have been raised regarding the decision, as many fear that legislation will actually increase the stigmatization that this group faces, rather than end it. The legislation has proved highly controversial amongst the Indian diaspora in the UK. Opponents of the change in legislation argue that work needs to be undertaken with local communities to educate people, rather than relying on legislative changes to combat the problem.
The UK government has also asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to examine caste prejudice and harassment in order to come up with a strategy that might best tackle this problem. The commission plans to publish its findings later on in the year.