Britain’s Dalit immigrants on Wednesday suffered a setback in their long-standing campaign for an anti-caste legislation when the House of Commons rejected a motion to amend the Equality Act to ban discrimination on the basis of caste.

Had the proposal gone through, it would have provided for discrimination on the basis of caste to be treated on par with racial discrimination. It was defeated by motion 307 to 243 following heavy lobbying by groups like the Alliance of Hindu Organisations UK (AHO) which argued that such a legislation would “stigmatise” the entire Hindu community.

Urging the MPs not to vote for the motion, AHO said: “This would be a hugely backwards step for the Hindu community, who believe that they have now very largely moved beyond the caste system in this country and who are themselves totally committed to eliminating discrimination based on caste or any other characteristic. Such legislation would be more likely to have the effect of setting back the cause of equality and of introducing new divisions in society between castes and also between Hindus and Christians who are supporting this move.”

Business Minister Jo Swinson told the House that there were deep concerns in the Hindu community about the implications of such legislation.

“There is a range of views within those communities that are very, very concerned about the possibility of actually increasing stigma through using legislation to try to deal with this particular issue,” said Ms. Swinson.

CasteWatchUK, which has been campaigning in favour of anti-caste legislation, expressed its disappointment but vowed to continue the “fight”.

“We knew this would be a difficult fight because the government has already taken a stand on this matter which is not in line with our human rights. Today’s vote will be perceived as them siding with the perpetrators rather than the victim community. We will not stop here and we will continue with our campaign,” said its general secretary, Davinder Prasad.

The setback came a day after CasteWatchUK held a large rally outside Parliament to press its demand.

Meanwhile, the government has asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate allegations of caste prejudice and harassment in Britain.

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