The Alliance of Hindu Organisations (AHO), which represents up to 1 million Hindus living in the United Kingdom, is disappointed that the House of Commons has voted to bring forward legislation that will have the effect of including caste within the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010.
The Alliance has serious concerns about the consequences and practicality of such legislation and about the impact it may have on communities living within the UK. It has articulated these concerns to politicians over the last few weeks and it will continue to do so in the coming months.
Nevertheless, the Alliance has always been clear that it is wholly against discrimination based on caste, or any other grounds, and it will continue work to eliminate the historical notion of caste from all communities in this country. The Alliance is prepared to engage in dialogue with the Government to ensure that when such legislation is brought forward it is done so in a manner which is workable and which addresses the many concerns raised by the Hindu community amongst others.
In particular the Alliance has noted the following commitments by the Government during the debate on the issue:
- Acknowledgement that caste extends to all religions, including Christianity, Sikhism and Buddhism, as well as to those with no faith.
- The need to define caste or descent as widely and clearly as possible and without reference to any one religion.
- The need to ensure that no-one is required to identify themselves by their caste for the purposes of the legislation.
- The need for a full and proper process of consultation over a considered period of time.
- The introduction of a sunset clause to take caste out of the legislation once it has been established that caste is no longer a part of our society.
A spokesperson for the Alliance said:
“We have many legitimate concerns as a community and it vital that the Government in particular listens to those concerns as it has done up until now. We are fully prepared to engage with the Government over these changes but withhold the right to withdraw that co-operation if the Government goes back on the commitments it has given to us.
“The principles of Hinduism are caste blind and the British Hindu Community has already virtually eradicated caste awareness within two generations we British Hindus are proof that this is achievable without the need for legislation. This was the perspective we have contributed to the debate. Where adequate consultation had been lacking, we brought consultation to both political parties and in two weeks have fast tracked a process which had been languishing on the periphery of our political scene, causing nothing but additional suffering for those who had suffered from discrimination, and which was also resulting in a steady invective, unjustly denigrating the British Hindu community as a whole. This issue needed to be properly concluded with all due haste.
“Our first priority is to ensure that the feelings of separation which may have been revived in the British Hindu family by this process are firmly uprooted. There can only be one Hindu family and any person practicing caste discrimination cannot by definition be a follower of Sanatan Dharma, Hinduism. We the AHO, shall through the channels of our network of Hindu Temples and Hindu organisations, be actively seeking to reinforce this principle and we invite with open arms the community that have called themselves Dalits, both Hindu and Christian, to join us in this.
“The second issue is that of Hindu Christian dialogue in this country which has been set back and we are giving most serious consideration to the manner in which members of the House of Lords used the protection of Parliamentary Privilege to make intolerant and inaccurate statements about the British Hindu community. Ministers from both parties clearly stated that caste is not ‘religion specific’ and we feverently hope that the legislation makes this absolutely clear.”
Caste discrimination legislation
– A brief summary and key information
Courtesy of City Hindus Network (CHN)
Caste discrimination legislation – A brief summary and key information:
During a discussion on Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Bill on 4 April, the 41st Bishop of Oxford Lord Harries of Pentegarth proposed an amendment to the unrelated E&RR Bill, which the House of Lords passed, that “caste” would be included as an aspect of “race” in the Equality Act 2010 (in other words, discrimination on the basis of caste should be outlawed). The Government opposed the move, saying it was a small problem, focused on pockets of the community, and that it would rather educate than legislate. The Government was defeated by a majority of 103. In the House of Commons on 16 April, the Government won by a majority of 64 and referred it back to the Lords, where it was debated on 22 April, now passing with a majority of 13. It was tabled the very next day at the Commons for a final reading. Vince Cable announced a Government u-turn and the legislation was passed.
What’s the background to this?
When the Equality Act 2010 came into force on 1 October 2010, it retained the power to add “caste” at a later date. The then Government commissioned a study from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NEISR) on 16 December 2010 to look into the issue. NEISR interviewed 32 people who said they had suffered caste discrimination or harassment, of which 9 were not used as case studies, and with others largely outside Hindu communities. The report stated “it is impossible to identify caste discrimination with absolute certainty based on the statement of the person who feels they have suffered such discrimination“.
What did Hindu organisations argue?
Most Hindu organisations acknowledged that some caste discrimination existed, but that it was reducing over time and focused in pockets. They argued therefore that targeted education programmes would be better than legislation. The arguments put forward were: the enforcement of such legislation would be difficult, because in modern Britain, young Hindus don’t care about their caste as much, and that it is a changing concept loosely defined on heritage; the legislation did not include a definition of what “caste” was; this may lead to a significant dispute and litigation burden for companies; that the existing Race Discrimination Act adequately deals with the issue; and that no research had been done as to the extent and severity of the discrimination. The Anti Caste Discrimination Committee, which “represented 56 groups representing 344,569, of which approximately half are people who would be classed at ‘low caste’ in India“, said they had not faced any caste discrimination and also opposed education.
What does this mean for you?
Probably not much. Equalities Minister Jo Swinson told MPs: “This is an issue that is contained in the Hindu and Sikh communities. That’s why we are working with those communities to address these problems.” She said: “Very strong views have been expressed in the Lords on this matter and in light of those views we have reconsidered our position and agreed to introduce caste-related legislation.“
What do you think? You can comment on our Facebook thread that starts “What do YOU think? Does caste discrimination exist in Britain?…“. If you wish to write to your MP click here. Documents and useful links:
- Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance materials here. National Secular Society briefing note here (pro-legislation).
- The Alliance of Hindu Organisations (AHO; anti-legislation, pro-education) statement here. Follow the AHO on Twitter here.
- Statement from the Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller here. Statement to the AHO by Yvette Cooper, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities and Kate Green, Shadow Minister for Equalities here.
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
- National Council of Hindu Temples UK
- International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
- BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha UK
- National Hindu Students Forum
- City Hindus Network
- Vishwa Hindu Kendra, Southall UK