12 April 2013
Organisations representing up to 1 million Hindus living in the United Kingdom have called on the House of Commons not to introduce hasty legislation that will have the effect of taking them back to the caste system. A Lords amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill threatens to have the effect of retrospectively including caste within the protected characteristics of the Equality Act. The House of Commons will vote on this amendment on Tuesday 16 April.
The Alliance of Hindu Organisations UK fears that this will label the Hindu community as being institutionally discriminatory and will result in individuals applying for work or places to study having to identify themselves by caste for equal opportunities monitoring purposes.
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.
Arjan Vakaria, of the Alliance of Hindu Organisations UK, said:
“The issue of the caste system is one that the Hindu community would very much like to move beyond. We strongly believe that modern Hindus do not care about what caste someone came from. This legislation would take us back to the past where we do not want to go.”
The UK Hindu community is very concerned that this significant move is being introduced without proper consultation or debate as an amendment to a completely unrelated bill. They are also concerned that Lords and MPs are voting with the best of intentions but with very little understanding of what they are actually voting for.
The case for the amendment is being made on the basis of a piece of research that relies on case studies of 23 people who claim that they have been discriminated against, almost all of whom were actually from non-Hindu faiths. The research itself acknowledges that there is no hard evidence of the extent of caste discrimination in the UK and that further research is needed to quantify this reliably, in addition to an outreach programme by the Hindu community to engage with local communities.
Anil Bhanot OBE, of the Alliance of Hindu Organisations UK, said:
“The previous government has already considered this issue once and decided that legislation was not needed. We are very concerned that the issue now appears to be back on the table without the benefit of proper research and consultation with those likely to be affected. “
NOTES FOR EDITORS
The Alliance of Hindu Organisations UK has been formed in response to the threat posed by this proposed amendment to the Equality Act 2010. The Alliance includes the following organisations that represent the vast majority of the 816,633 Hindus in the UK (2011 census figures):
- Hindu Council UK
- Hindu Forum of Britain (including the International Krishna Consciousness UK)
- National Council of Hindu Temples UK
- BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha UK
- National Hindu Students Forum
- City Hindus Network
- Vishwa Hindu Kendra, Southall UK
In March 2013 the House of Lords agreed an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which would specifically make caste discrimination unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. The Act currently prohibits race discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the workplace. The definition of “race” within the Act includes colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin but does not specifically refer to caste.
In order for this amendment to make its way into legislation it would also need to be agreed by the House of Commons. The Government has indicated that this proposed amendment is opposed. Nevertheless, the AHO is concerned that the amendment may still slip through the House of Commons.
Instead, the Government Equalities Office and Department for Communities and Local Government have appointed “Talk for Change”, a community interest company, to engage with communities affected by caste discrimination and to run an educational programme. The Government have also been in discussions with the EHRC who will be examining the nature of caste prejudice and harassment, and the extent to which the problem might be addressed by legislative or other solutions.
The AHO is totally committed to eradicating all forms of discrimination, and is working with a number of temples on education programmes to reinforce the message that discrimination on the basis of caste or any other grounds is completely unacceptable.
During the passage of the Equality Bill through Parliament, the Government considered that the available evidence did not indicate that caste discrimination was a significant problem in Britain in the areas (i.e. work, education and goods and services) covered by discrimination legislation. It commissioned the NIESR to carry out research into the issue, resulting in a report in December 2010 entitled ‘Caste discrimination and harassment in Great Britain’. The report itself acknowledges the following points:
- There is no clear evidence on whether the extent of caste discrimination and harassment is changing. There are both positive and negative influences at work.
- Anti- and pro-caste legislation organisations express opposing views about the trend in caste awareness. The former consider caste to be dying out in this country (if not already dead); the latter believe it remains and will remain strong. There is no hard evidence either way.
- The research was to be largely qualitative and it was recognised at the outset that quantification of the extent of caste discrimination and harassment would be highly limited.
- The study interviewed 32 people who believed they had suffered caste discrimination or harassment. The aim was to try to identify relevant incidents of caste discrimination and harassment through gathering detailed information on alleged incidents. Proof either way was impossible, particularly because evidence was gathered from a single person only.
- Of the 32 individuals interviewed 23 have been used as case studies, nine have not been used as case studies:
- four incidents were judged to have happened too long ago, occurring 20 or more years ago;
- two, whilst relating to caste, did not provide information on incidents within the remit of the study (one was about personal relations; the other described problems in general terms);
- one, whilst relating to caste, did not provide convincing evidence of caste discrimination;
- one did not appear to relate to caste, but to class and wealth;
- one was subject to legal proceedings.
- Quantifying the extent of caste discrimination would require a representative survey. This would be highly complex and was outside the budget and timescale of the study. Moreover, estimating the possible population open to caste discrimination is hampered by lack of data on the population by caste in Britain.
- There is no information on the composition of low caste members in Britain as a group. Data would be difficult to compile for many reasons, not least that some low caste people wish to hide their caste, whilst others reject the notion of caste and so would not report having a caste. Thus the estimates range from a minimum of 50,000 to 200,000 or more.
- Qualitative studies provide little enlightenment. In an unrepresentative survey of 130 low caste individuals and organisations, 85 per cent said they belonged to a caste, but only 30 per cent said their children were aware of their caste.
- A reported growth in inter-caste marriage was presented as evidence of a decline in caste discrimination, particularly amongst younger generations. This was argued not only by anti-caste legislation organisations but also by individuals who believed they had suffered caste discrimination.
- The percentage that experiences caste discrimination and the frequency of discrimination is unknown. Only a major programme of research could establish this. Similarly, we could find no evidence on whether there has been any change in the extent of any caste discrimination. A range of factors, operating in different directions, may affect this and so even the direction of change is unclear. Again, only a major programme of research could establish whether caste discrimination is dying out.
The Alliance is made up of the largest Hindu representative bodies in the UK:
- Hindu Council UK: Hindu Council UK (HCUK) was founded in 1994 for all Hindus domiciled in the United Kingdom, combining all the Hindu faith denominations, whilst representing various Hindu communities and Hindus from different parts of the world settled in the United Kingdom. It’s main purpose is to give the UK Hindus an effective voice on policy matters with the Government whilst enhancing mutual understanding among the major faiths predominant in the UK. Along with other major faith councils, Hindu Council UK is invited to consult on Government policy from time to time in order to provide input and feedback from a Hindu point of view. Further information www.hinducounciluk.org
- Hindu Forum of Britain: The Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB) is an umbrella body for British Hindus with more than 350 member organisations from around the country. HFB’s activities are broadly divided into three areas: public policy and community consultation for the government; capacity building and project development for the Hindu community; and developing good interfaith relations with other faith communities to build a cohesive and inclusive Britain. At the core of the Forum’s activity is a strong belief in the richness and diversity of the Hindu culture, its value system that encompasses for respect for all beings and faiths and a cultural heritage that facilitates community cohesion and coexistence. Further information at www.hfb.org.uk
- National Council of Hindu Temples: The NCHT UK act as a resource centre and is one of the main consultative & advisory bodies on all matters relating to the British Hindu Temples and regularly interacts with the Government and Statutory Departments. NCHT UK also advises and consults on matters relating to interfaith dialogue, community consultations and capacity building in Temples, and advises and challenges legislation and policies that may affect the Hindu Community in the UK. Further information at www.nchtuk.org
- National Hindu Students’ Forum: National Hindu Students Forum UK (NHSF) is the largest Hindu student body in Europe, which aims to protect, preserve, practice and promote Hindu Dharma amongst the Hindu student population. NHSF functions on many different levels. The majority of NHSF activity is based on campus at the many university Hindu societies active across the country, with these societies organising events catered to the needs of their members. Contact with the local Hindu community is also maintained, keeping Hindu students in touch and involved with the wider Hindu samaj. Another level of NHSF activity is the national events organised to bring together Hindu students from across the country, the main ones in our calendar being the Annual Conference and the Khel Competition. Our national publications endeavour to inform and debate, whilst our PR team exists to ensure cohesion with the wider Hindu population and with society at large. In brief, NHSF functions in a multi-layered and very dynamic way! Further information at www.nhsf.org.uk
- BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir: The Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) has its UK headquarters at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London. Its socio-spiritual activities are inspired by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. As a socio-spiritual charitable organisation, BAPS is involved in numerous humanitarian services both locally and internationally, including projects for health, educational, environmental, moral, cultural and spiritual care. Through its dedicated volunteer force of more than 55,000 youths and over 800 sadhus, it offers approximately 12 million volunteer-hours every year in serving others. Together, these unsung heroes have helped de-addict over 600,000 people and continue to work quietly towards creating a society free from drugs, violence and crime. Further information at www.mandir.org/baps_uk
- City Hindus Network: The CHN is a voluntary not-for-profit organisation with several thousand members created to promote networking, personal development and charity among Hindu professionals in London. It aims to inspire others to learn more about Hindu philosophical thought, build lasting relationships and networks, and contribute to the sustained betterment of our community. Further information at www.cityhindusnetwork.org.uk
- Southall Mandir: Further information at www.southallmandir.co.uk/home
The Alliance has set up a Twitter account for the campaign at @AHO_UK. We would ask all members organisations to follow this account on their own Twitter feeds and retweet messages from the campaign to their own followers. Also please feel free to join in the discussion of this issue under the hash tag #notocaste. We need to make sure that MPs vote against the change in the Commons on Tuesday 16 April, so also please tweet your own MP asking them for their support.