UK to become first country in Europe to outlaw discrimination based on caste

  • post Type / General news
  • Date / 25 April 2013

The upper house of the parliament of the United Kingdom agreed to outlaw discrimination on grounds of caste earlier this week.

The vote represents a victory for campaigners who argued that similar laws against discrimination in place in India were alse needed in the UK. The UK now looks set to become the first country in Europe to outlaw discrimination based on "caste".

On Monday evening peers voted to retain their original amendment making caste a protected characteristic (as an aspect of race) under equality law, by 181 votes to 168. The Lords had already voted in favour in March, which was welcomed at the time as a victory. However the March decision was later rejected by the House of Commons. IHEU's International Director based in India, Babu Gogineni, had said of the first successful Lords vote in March, "This is a very positive step and a victory for common sense in the UK. It is understandable that an imported form of discrimination is a sensitive topic, but this should not mean that the government ignores or downplays a serious threat to the rights and liberties of its citizens… We know from experience that the explicit outlawing of caste discrimination does not solve everything; caste discrimination was outlawed in India in 1947 but remains an endemic social problem affecting millions. However, legal deterrent is a powerful tool for building a ballast against the inhuman and degrading discrimination associated with caste."

This week's vote has prompted the Government to finally concede on the principle and has tabled an amendment which would bring forward regulations to include caste as an aspect of Race (under Section 9(5) of the Equality Act 2010).

The UK's National Secular Society (NSS) has welcomed the news, Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the NSS, commenting: "We are delighted that the Government has committed to ensure that discrimination against caste will enjoy the same statutory protection as other protected characteristics. Too many British citizens have suffered caste based discrimination. Our equality legislation will now send out a clear signal that it will no longer be tolerated, and offers hope to the tens of thousands of British Asians whose lives are blighted by such prejudice. … We are proud that the UK is the first European country to pass this legislation and hope that other nations where caste discrimination is practised will follow the example of India, and now the UK."

Highlighting and combating caste discrimination in particular in India has been a policy priority for the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) for many years. The IHEU delegation to the Human Rights Council in Geneva criticised the UK last year for failing to act on a report suggesting that caste discrimination was a problem among some proportion of the 50,000 to 200,000 "lower caste" individuals in the UK.

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