Sunday, November 01, 2015

In March 2013 Parliament decided to make caste a protected characteristic in the Equality Act, after the Government were defeated twice on the issue in the House of Lords, and there was no time for them to reverse that decision in the Commons before the Dissolution. But they made no secret of their antipathy to the proposal in their dealings with the Hindu Forum, a powerful lobby group which defends the caste system by pretending that discrimination is non-existent in the UK. It would be remarkable if the large diaspora from south Asia had indeed abandoned such a deeply persistent cultural norm in their travels, and in spite of the formidable obstacles to  litigation against caste discrimination under existing equality law, the recent case of Chandhok & Anor v Tirkey demonstrated that in certain limited circumstances, the courts would find in favour of the victims. The Government then said they were studying the implications of the Tirkey judgement and had to 

"consider carefully whether putting the word “caste” into the Act would actually change or clarify the legal position". []

The fact is that it would remove the barrier to litigation arising from the wording of the Tirkey judgement, which applied only in the particular circumstances of that case. Victims of caste discrimination would have to satisfy the court that they were covered by that judgement, adding to the burden of proof and to their costs. Legal certainty can only be achieved through the implementation of Parliament's two and a half year old decision, which the Government's 'careful consideration' is a preliminary to repealing. 

The Tories have decided, I fear, that the higher castes represented by the Hindu Council need to be placated at the expense of the Dalits, who are generally the victims of caste discrimination here in the UK, as they are still in south Asia. The Government should tell the Hindu lobby that the Equality Act as amended will protect victims of discrimination no matter what their caste in the situations it covers []. High caste Hindus have nothing to fear if they refrain from discrimination, and the amendment is no more a criticism of them as a community than the equivalent sections dealing with racial discrimination are aimed at groups of a particular ethnicity.

Useful article in The Economist

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