The Alliance of Hindu Organisations UK has issued a plea for all communities to work together to address the problem of caste discrimination in the UK. This follows the vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday 16 April to reject a Lords amendment that would have had the effect of bringing caste within the Equality Act 2010. That amendment has now been referred back to the House of Lords and is due for debate once more on Monday 22 April 2013.
All sides in the debate are united in their desire to make sure that there is not even one case of discrimination based on caste, but different views on the way forward are causing tensions between communities and even between different faiths. The Alliance is committed to finding a workable solution to the problem of caste discrimination that does not split communities.
Anil Bhanot OBE, speaking on behalf of the Alliance, said:
“I am clear in my own mind that discrimination exists and some of the individual stories we have heard over the past few days have been heart-breaking. The only difference between us is that we are asking for a different approach to eradicate it. That is the only difference. We must all stand together as a community to protect the vulnerable and be careful not to create divisions.”
Different views on the way forward are leading to the possibility of a wide ranging law that would impose onerous obligations and costs on business, force individuals to identify and declare their caste for monitoring purposes and may open the way to litigation and judicial review.
Kishan Bhatt, speaking for the Alliance, said:
“There are very real problems with a legislative solution, including the difficulty of defining categories amongst a range of hundreds of different castes, asking individuals to find out and then declare their own caste for monitoring purposes, and helping businesses to understand and comply with the complexities of a potential legal minefield.
“There are alternatives solutions already available to remedy cases of caste discrimination. These include an educational programme, a mediation scheme and legal remedies under existing equalities legislation. Let us not forget that hard cases make bad law.”
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.
Difficulties with potential legislation
The enforcement of any law based on caste would be inherently difficult, not least because the concept of caste is a forever changing concept and loosely defined on someone’s heritage which in itself may be the subject of dispute. Whereas existing categories of discrimination such as race, religion, gender etc. can be relatively easily defined there is no objective assessment of caste. The Indian legislation on caste lists over 1,000 castes, including 39 different castes in Punjab and 36 in Gujarat alone split amongst the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist religions.
The complexities and costs of complying with such legislation would be onerous for businesses and other organisations. All equal opportunities monitoring schemes would need to be re-written accordingly. All employers would all need to become familiar with an extremely complex area of cultural sensitivity and the possibilities of dispute, litigation and judicial review in individual cases are highly likely. All such disputes would rely on costly expert evidence to help settle them.
It is arguable that the existing law more than adequately deals with the problem. The Race Discrimination Act already defines race as a concept which includes ethnic origin. Any new legal remedy must be proportionate to the scale of the problem, which existing government research has not established and to introduce this new law without proper consultation, which the Hindu community feels has not taken place, would itself be unlawful.
The NIESR report itself identifies that some alleged caste discrimination may equally possibly be religious discrimination. This arises from some religions (notably Ravidassia, Valmiki and
Ambedkarite Buddhists) being comprised almost solely of members of low castes and many Indian Christians also being low caste. In theory, therefore, these groups, who represent a large proportion of the UK low caste population, ought to be able to be able to gain redress for caste discrimination through the existing religious and belief provisions of the Equality Act 2010.
Figures of up to 500,000 have been quoted as the size of the lower caste population in the UK. No authoritative source for this claim can be identified and the Wikipedia entry for it refers back to the BBC report of 15 April 2013. The Dalit Solidarity Network UK’s own research (July 2006) reports that the population is estimated between 50,000 and 200,000. In the 2011 Census only 11,058 people identify themselves as Ravidassis (the largest Dalit caste). The 2011 census reports that there are 861,633 Hindus and 423,158 Sikhs in England and Wales.
During the passage of the Equality Bill through Parliament, the previous 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 NIESR 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.
The study interviewed 32 people who believed they had suffered caste discrimination. Of these, 23 were used as case studies, 9 were judged not suitable for use. This is the only hard evidence for caste discrimination in the report.
There is no information on the composition of low caste members in Britain as a group. Estimates range from a minimum of 50,000 to 200,000 or more.
In a 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.
The percentage that experiences caste discrimination and the frequency of discrimination is unknown. Only a major programme of research could establish this.
The number of Dalits in Britain is a figure that requires more research:
Census figures show the number of Hindus in England and Wales has grown from 553,403 (2001) to 816,633 (2011). The number of Sikhs has increased from 330,554 (2001) to 423,158 (2011). There number of Jains has increased from […] to 20,288 (2011). There number of Buddhists has increased from […] to 247,743 (2011).
The Dalit Solidarity Network UK report (July 2006) says that the biggest population of Dalits (Ravidassis, Valmikis and Buddhists) are in Southall and London (11,000), Birmingham and Wolverhampton (10,000) and Coventry (10,000). The report says “there are estimated to be at least 50,000 Dalits in the UK”, in which case more than 60% of Dalits may be in just three locations in the England. The report lists Dalits as located in a total of 19 locations in England, and one location in Scotland.
The 2011 Census (same link as above) shows that there are only 11,058 Ravidassis, the largest Dali caste, compared to a claim of 35,000.
The Dalit Solidarity Network UK report (July 2006) claims that there could be 200,000 Dalits as “estimated by some Dalit organisations such as the Federation of Amedkarite and Buddhist Organisation and Shri Guru Ravidas Sabha” and references an Appendix to further substantiate the claim. However, the Appendix contains specific reference to only the 50,000 figure.
A figure of “up to 500,000” Dalits was used in the 16 April 2013 Newsnight report. There is no independent verification of this claim, and the figure is not, for example, quoted or evidenced on the websites of the Dalit Solidarity Network and Caste Watch UK. The figure seems to come from a Wikipedia entry.
There is little evidence to show legislation in India has reduced caste discrimination:
There are several provisions, Acts, Articles in the Constitution of India against caste discrimination (see Bagde (2013)):
Article 15 of Indian Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of caste besides discrimination on grounds of religion, race, sex or place of birth and envisages equality before law (Article 14).
Equality of opportunity in public employment (Article 16) is enshrined. Anti caste discriminatory provisions are also incorporated in Article 17 by abolition of untouchability.
Right against exploitation (Article 23 and 24) is there to ensure prohibition of caste discrimination. As such right to equality is provided under Articles 14 to 18 of the Indian Constitution.
Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 prohibits atrocities and thus caste discrimination based on caste. Indian Civil Rights Act 1955 is meant
to ensure equal civil rights to all the citizens of India. Uniform Civil Code (Article 44) in the Constitution of India is also directed to prevent discrimination based on caste.
The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989), and deals with an Affirmative Action programme including reservations for SC and ST. The Backward Classes Act, 1993, administered by the regulatory body The National Commission for Backward Classes, has 18 programmes in order to support SC, ST to provide access to education, provision of accommodation, access to finance and support for NGOs working with SC, ST. There are also 8 programmes in place to support OBCs in order to provide access to education, provision of accommodation, access to finance and support for NGOs working with OBCs.
The average household income for Dalits was of Rs. 17,465 (around £220) in 1998, just 68% of the national average.
Issues with reservation:
Mandatory caste-based affirmative action programs at universities in 2006 led to a nationwide strikes at leading hospitals and two “public interest litigation” cases that received significant media coverage.
The Government of India found that reservations were not effective because of wide variations within the Dalit community, and recently introduced “sub-quotas” for certain sub-castes within this community.
There is little or no evidence to show reservations and legislation have led to improved conditions for lower castes in India. In particular, Bagde (2013) in the Journal of Law and Conflict Resolution (pp. 30, February 2013) notes of the many laws that protects lower castes in India: “Despite provisions of legal measures, presence and the continuation of antagonistic socio economic and religious and cultural element makes the enforcement of human rights and prevention of caste discrimination difficult.” The paper says what is required for India is “constant persuasion to change the psychology” of Indians.
The 2011 Indian census found that scheduled castes comprised 24.4% the total population of 1,028,737,436. Figures for the 2011 census have not yet been released.
The legal case in Britain
In the landmark Begraj v Heer Manak (2013), Mr Begraj alleged caste discrimination from Heer Manek Solicitors when he married a higher caste Jatt Sikh lady. The trial collapsed after the Judge recused herself.
The facts of Begraj v Heer Manak (2013) are case specific. What may or may not have occurred in that case is very much limited to the circumstances of the respondent and claimant. It is inappropriate to suggest there is a wider social problem on the basis of one tribunal case. Moreover no government has invoked legislation on the basis of the one tribunal case.
The law in this case appears to have been based on the sole unchallenged testimony of Mrs Begraj. This in itself is procedurally unusual and in our opinion the decision to create law without consultation of all views is in itself unlawful. The government has realised this and put the matter out for public consultation.
Enforcement of any law based on caste would be very difficult to enforce not least because the concept of caste is a forever changing concept and loosely defined on someone’s heritage which in itself may be the subject of dispute. Whereas existing categories of discrimination such as race, religion, age etc can be objectively defined there is no objective assessment of caste.
Where do you draw the line? Prejudice exists in all forms and it is impossible to legislate for all. This is not to say that discrimination should be tolerated on the contrary but in legislating laws need to be proportionate. If one was to legislate on the basis of a cultural concept such as caste, other communities would then ask for similar legislation. For example the SYLETHY community versus Dhaka in Bangladesh, or Mer Puri versus the rest of the Pakistani community. This is why it is better to legislate on an objective basis rather than on subjective cultural basis.
Creating a problem when there isn’t one: Is there really a need for law? The caste system to the extent that it exists is a deeply rooted, culturally sensitive Indian tradition. Indians first arrived in the UK in the 1950s and while Indian tradition may have been prevalent amongst first and even second generation Indians, in 2013 it is a much diminished, and diminishing, issue if at all.
The existence of such a law would open up new areas of hostility that had long been forgotten; the law would also be open to abuse by opportunistic claimants and give rise to expensive litigation which would almost always rely on expert evidence.
The existing law more than adequately deals with the problem. The Race Discrimination Act defines race as a concept which includes ethnic origin. Most employers have a comprehensive recruitment policy and will already have clear guidelines on recruitment and HR processes on bullying.
The NIESR research was not robust, and fundamentally flawed:
According to Vera Baird (Labour), on 6 April 2010, commented on “the small amount of mainly anecdotal evidence of caste discrimination”. It said the NIESR study “involves talking to a wide range of community stakeholders and conducting detailed face-to-face interviews with about 35 people who claim to have experienced caste discrimination.” The AHO feels that a “wide range” of community leaders were never consulted.
Baroness Thornton (Labour) said on 2 March 2010 the NIESR research would “explore the nature, extent and severity of caste prejudice and discrimination in Britain, and its associated implications for future government policy.” The AHO feels, given only a handful of pre-selected people were interviewed, it is impossible for the report to comment on “the extent or severity” of caste discrimination.
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 a biased, non-random sample of just 32 people who believed they had suffered caste discrimination or harassment. In none of the cases did the researchers attempt to interview any others connected to these cases to establish the veracity of the claims made.
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.
Quality and value of the report has been limited by the inadequacy of time and resource allocated to producing the report.
The NEISR report did not provide an adequate definition of caste before conducting its research.
The report is incomplete because did not look for any evidence of discrimination in the Work, Provision of Goods & Service and Health & Education in the UK.
Of the 32 individuals interviewed 23 have been used as case studies, nine have not been used as case studies:
- Four incidents occurred 20 or more years ago
- Two 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 did not provide convincing evidence of caste discrimination
- One appeared to relate to class and wealth
- One was subject to legal proceedings
No effort has been made to verify the claims of the 32 individuals interviewed.
The NIESR report itself quotes pro-caste legislations organisations giving examples of “Jatt pride” leading to caste-ism (a non-Hindu issue). Furthermore the report acknowledges that it has not considered the effect of any factors that diminish caste discrimination over time: “Extensive research would be required to identify whether the consequence of these pressures [inter-caste marriage] and trends is a diminution in caste consciousness and discrimination, and the speed of decline” and ” only a major programme of research could establish whether caste discrimination is dying out.”
98% of the interviewees for this report were Sikh, and not Hindu.
There is increasing evidence in the Hindu community in the UK of mixed-race and mixed-caste marriages – significantly more so than in India. This indicates that the issue of caste discrimination has significantly diminished from earlier generations.
Young Hindus increasingly define themselves as “British Asian” or “British Indian”, rather than by their caste. In fact, 324,643 people did so in the 2011 Census.
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):
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 at 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 Sanstha: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) has its UK headquarters at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London. It strives to fulfil the spiritual and social needs of people while promoting inner peace and harmony between individuals, within families, and among communities. Recognised and appreciated internationally for its humanitarian services and commitment to holistic social uplift, BAPS has received many national awards and is closely affiliated with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It reaches out to millions of individuals through its network of over 3,850 centres, 900 sadhus, 55,000 volunteers, and the dedication of over one million followers in 45 countries. BAPS is inspired and guided by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Further information at londonmandir.baps.org/about
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
For further information please contact Alliance of Hindu Organisation’s spokesperson Sanjay Jagatia (Director/Secretary General, Hindu Council UK) on firstname.lastname@example.org
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.