Caste discrimination outlawed in UK

The UK has become the first country outside Asia to ban discrimination towards Dalit, the so-called ‘untouchables’ at the bottom of the Hindu caste system

The UK is to become the first country outside Asia to outlaw discrimination based on caste.

Benefiting from the new legal protection will be up to 400,000 UK-based Dalit – the so-called ‘untouchables’ at the bottom of the Hindu caste system – who until now were unprotected from discrimination in work and social situations.

The landmark decision is a victory for campaigners who had fought to have caste treated as an element of race under the Equality Act 2010. The government had initially rejected the amendment proposed by the House of Lords in March 2013, arguing the matter was best dealt with by an education programme inside Hindu communities. The U-turn was announced on 23 April 2013 by business secretary Vince Cable, followed a fresh Lords vote in favour.

The news sparked jubilation among Dalit supporters. Ravi Kumar, general secretary of the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, told Positive News: “The legislation has the potential to pave the way for real social reform and eradication of this unacceptable form of discrimination in this country.”

Caste discrimination has roots in traditional Hindu society, where Dalit were regarded by higher castes as ritually ‘untouchable’ for their performance of roles such as waste collection. India itself outlawed such discrimination in 1949, and has implemented affirmative action policies aimed at increasing the status of Dalit in society.

However, UN research demonstrates that prejudice continues to affect tens of millions of Dalit both inside and outside India.