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