EIESR Report and Future of Caste in UK

National Institute for Economic and Social Research’s (NIESR) has recently issued a report confirming that Caste and Caste Discrimination exist in the UK. The Report by Hilary Metcalf and Heather Rolfe is titled Caste discrimination and harassment in Great Britain and was published officially on 16 December 2010.

A single line which may be very easily missed in a report Summary  is perhaps the most telling.

The line is:

Relying on the Indian community to take action to reduce caste discrimination and harassment is problematic.

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UK India Caste Nexus

UK bill links caste to race, India red-faced

Manoj Mitta, TNN, Mar 31, 2010, 04.17am IST


NEW DELHI: In the first such legislative move anywhere in the world, and much to the embarrassment of India's official position, the British House of Lords has passed a law that treats caste as "an aspect of race".


On March 24, the House of Lords passed the Equality Bill empowering the British government to include "caste" within the definition of "race". This threatens India's much-touted success in keeping caste out of the resolution adopted at the 2001 Durban conference on racism. The provision to outlaw caste discrimination in Britain came in the form of an amendment made by the Lords as a result of intensive lobbying by dalit groups, including followers of Ravidass sect who had suffered a violent attack last year in Austria.


The bill will become a law after the House of Commons passes it. The legislation draws its legitimacy from a recommendation made in 2002 by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) that all member states of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), including India and the UK, should enact domestic legislation declaring that descent-based discrimination encompassed caste and "analogous systems of inherited status".


This development comes at a time when the Manmohan Singh government is already under pressure before the UN Human Rights Council as the draft principles and guidelines issued by it last year on discrimination based on work and descent recognized caste as a factor. The British legislation may provide impetus for the adoption of those draft principles and guidelines.


Though the bill originally contained no reference to caste, the Gordon Brown government agreed to its inclusion even as it commissioned a research on the nature of the problem that is believed to have come into Britain through the Indian diaspora. A parliamentary committee, while recommending last year that caste be considered as a subset of race, cited specific instances of caste discrimination in Britain.


In one such case, a qualified dalit working in the National Health Service suddenly suffered discrimination at the hands of his supervisor soon after the latter discovered his "low caste" status. The dalit employee was reportedly harassed and suspended from work for a whole year. While a trade union managed to obtain compensation for him, the case highlighted a lacuna in the law to deal with caste discrimination. The Gordon Brown government accepted the amendment tabled by Liberal Democrats subject to the outcome of the research ordered by it on caste discrimination. Baroness Thornton, speaking for the government, told the peers, "We have looked for evidence of caste discrimination and we now think that evidence may exist, which is why we have now commissioned the research."


Lord Avebury, who had tabled the amendment, said he believed that the research would "conclusively prove that caste discrimination does occur in the fields covered by the bill". India's opposition to the linking of caste with race began in 1996, when it tried to free itself of "reporting obligation" under CERD, saying that caste, though perpetuated through descent, was "not based on race".


This is a drastic departure from the position originally taken by India in 1965 while proposing the historic amendment to introduce descent in CERD. It had actually cited its experience with caste as an argument for recognizing all forms of descent-based discrimination.


House of Lords Recognises Caste Discrimination

UK House of Lords adopts measure against caste discrimination


Following intensive lobbying by the National Secular Society (NSS, an IHEU member organization), the UK’s House of Lords on 2 March 2010 adopted an amendment to the new UK Equality Bill, paving the way for caste discrimination to be made illegal. Lobbying by the NSS was given a new focus by the first international conference on untouchability hosted by the IHEU and held in London last summer.

Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society commented: "This victory is historic; the UK is the first Western country to pass such legislation. I hope it will encourage other states where caste discrimination is practised to do likewise, or – in the case of India – enforce the legislation it already has."

Since speaking at the London conference last June, both Lord Avebury and Keith Porteous Wood have been working hard to bring this amendment about. Initially, the prospect of success seemed remote, as neither the Government nor the Equality and Human Rights Commission were supportive. Lord Avebury and Wood brought together powerful speakers for the parliamentary debate on the Equality Bill, some of whom spoke from personal experience of caste. This clearly persuaded the Government to reconsider. They also encouraged anti-caste groups to work together and pool information, often for the first time, and sought out lawyers knowledgeable in this specialised area.

The Government convened a meeting of around 50 members of anti-caste groups who gave moving accounts of the discrimination they had suffered. At the next parliamentary stage the Government accepted an amendment, of which Lord Avebury was a co-signatory, enabling caste to be added to the Bill. The Equality Bill has not quite finished its passage through Parliament, but it is almost certain that the amendment will survive unopposed.

The Government has commissioned a survey into caste discrimination which will report in summer or autumn 2010. It is anticipated that, following this, the anti-caste discrimination measure will be activated.

Also active in bringing about this success have been NSS Honorary Associates Dr Evan Harris, Lord Desai (who also spoke at the London Conference) and Lady Flather. We thank them all.

The victory was reported by the BBC at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8546661.stm

Outlaw Caste Discrimination in UK - the Legal Case - by Annapurna Waughray

 The Hindu Council, The Hindu Forum and in the past the British Government, all claimed that an anti-caste discrimination legislation is unwarranted. Their reasoning is based on highly spurious and non-scholarly foundations.

In a paper titled 'Caste Discrimination: A Twenty-First Century Challenge for UK Discrimination Law?' published in the February 2009 edition of the Modern Law Review, Annapurna Waughray, an international lawyer, argues for the case of anti-caste legislation to be included in the UK legislation on various grounds, the legal argument being that not to do so would contravene the international law and agreements. 

Who Invented Hinduism? by Prof David Lorenzen

 In this article titled "Who Invented Hinduism?" Professor David Lorenzen of El Colgio de Mexico argues that Hinduism as a clearly defined category was not invented by the British as has been asserted by some scholars; he then goes on to argue that neither Hinduism nor the invention of caste in India is the work of 'outsiders'.