Evidence of caste discrimination in the UK must not be ignored – IHEU

  • Date / 18 October 2012

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has criticised the UK over its slow response to concerns about caste discrimination in the country.

In its Equality Act of 2010 the British government outlawed discrimination in the workplace and in society generally on the grounds of race, gender and various other reasons, but discrimination on the grounds of caste was deprioritised. The Act did empower the minister responsible to add caste to the types of outlawed discrimination as and when the need became more clearly apparent. Since then and following pressure from Hindu community leaders, the government has failed to act, despite overwhelming evidence of the existence of caste discrimination among the Hindu community.

Based on information provided by the IHEU Member Organisation the UK’s National Secular Society (who were instrumental in having this additional power incorporated in the 2010 Act) the IHEU representative Josephine Macintosh raised the issue in the course of the triennial examination of the British government’s human rights record at the Human Rights Council on 20 September 2012. Video. The full text of her speech follows below.

UN Human Rights Council – 21st Session

Agenda Item 6:  United Kingdom  UPR
Speaker: IHEU Representative, Josephine Macintosh, Thursday 20 September 2012

Caste Discrimination in the United Kingdom

Madam President

Nicaragua has recommended [1] that the UK “Put in practice a national strategy to eliminate discrimination against caste, through the immediate adoption of [legislation] in conformity with its international human rights obligations …”.

A UK Government-sponsored report [2] concludes that:

  1. The population includes 50,000-200,000 of low caste communities, living in 22 localities. [P19&20]
  2. “Alleged caste discrimination and harassment in the area of work were identified in respect of bullying and harassment, social exclusion, recruitment, promotion, task allocation and dismissal.” [P30]
  3. “Cases where caste appeared to have affected the tasks people did in their job or movement to lower level jobs were found in the literature and the case studies.” [P40]
  4. “Cases of dismissal because of possible caste discrimination, near dismissal and concealment of caste out of fear of dismissal were found in the case studies and the literature.” and [P41] in the provision of social and health care, in worship and in politics [P49-55]

The Government has consistently stonewalled the triggering of its enabling power in the UK Equality Act 2010 that would allow caste to be added to the list of protected characteristics, on the grounds that “Its coverage would therefore be significantly wider than simply alleged discrimination against people of the Dalit communities by other, higher-caste Hindus or Sikhs.”[3]

We invite this Council to inform the UK that objections by potential oppressors are a wholly unacceptable justification for further delaying the implementation of legislation against caste discrimination.

Thank you, Madam President


[1]  A/HRC/21/9 6 July 2012 Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review – United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelandparas 98 and 110.61

[2]  UK Home Office: Caste discrimination and harassment in Great Britain

[3]  Former Minister for Equalities, Lynne Featherstone MP, letter to Baroness Prashar Dated 7 May 2102, CTS Reference:M6004/12

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