The British government today opened a new consultation process to determine whether to enact laws against caste-based discrimination in the country. The ‘Caste in Great Britain and Equality Law – A Public Consultation’ aims to gather public views on how best to ensure that there is “appropriate legal protection” against caste discrimination. “This ban could be applied by formally making caste an aspect of race in the Equality Act 2010; or through developing case law in the courts and employment tribunals. “In either case, businesses and public authorities would have to consider caste discrimination in the same way they consider other aspects of race discrimination when dealing with employees, customers or service users,” the consultation by the UK Government Equalities Office said.
“We want to hear from members of those communities who may encounter caste discrimination in their daily lives as well as the wider public, businesses, service providers educational and other institutions and public authorities,” it said. The consultation, open for responses for 16 weeks, will close on July 17. The UK government defines “caste” as a hereditary, endogamous (marrying within the group) community associated with a traditional occupation and ranked accordingly on a perceived scale of ritual purity.
“It is generally (but not exclusively) associated with South Asia, particularly India and its diaspora. It can encompass the four classes (varnas) of Hindu tradition (the ‘Brahmin’, ‘Kshatriya’, ‘Vaishya’ and ‘Shudra’ communities); the thousands of regional Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Muslim or other religious groups known as ‘jatis’; and groups amongst South Asian Muslims called ‘biradaris’.
“Some ‘jatis’ regarded as below the ‘varna’ hierarchy (once termed “untouchable”) are known as Dalits,” the explanatory note to the Equality Act 2010 reads. UK-based Dalit groups have long campaigned for caste to be recognised as part of Britain’s equality legislation. However, a number of Hindu groups are on the opposing end of the argument on the grounds that the community in the UK has moved beyond such divides.