Consultation on caste discrimination begins

The British government on Tuesday published details of a long-awaited 16-week public consultation on whether caste should be introduced as an aspect of race in anti-discrimination legislation.

The government said that while there was “no place” for any form of prejudice and discrimination based on a person’s origins, it wanted to be careful “not to create or entrench any notion of caste consciousness or caste-based practices into British society, which may prove counterproductive or divisive”.

“This consultation is about how to ensure that there are appropriate and proportionate legal protection against unlawful discrimination because of a person’s origins with due consideration given to how such protections would be implemented in practice,” the consultation says.

Extent of discrimination

It has also published a feasibility study on the ability to measure caste discrimination, which concluded that there was no “significant ethical or methodological barriers that could not be overcome to allow a survey measuring the extent of caste discrimination to be carried out”.

The issue of incorporating caste discrimination into British legislation has been a matter of public debate for a number of years now. Section 9 of the Equality Act 2010, amended by Parliament in 2013, requires the government to introduce secondary legislation to make caste an aspect of race, and caste discrimination a form of race discrimination, but allowing for further consultations.

The issue has divided opinion, both within the diaspora and wider British society, with a number of public debates occurring over the past few months ahead of the consultation.

Differing opinions

“There is no need for this kind of legislation. There are already adequate protections under U.K. equality law,” says Trupti Patel, president of the Hindu Forum of Britain.

Others argue that the consultation is unnecessary given the existence of a previous survey suggesting the existence of discrimination. In 2010, an extensive report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research identified evidence of caste discrimination and harassment.

“It was expected but concerning that the consultation asks whether there should be legislation, given Parliament has demanded it and the UN strongly recommended it,” says Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society.