As the first country outside South Asia, the UK has decided to legislate against caste discrimination. This form of discrimination will now be included as “an aspect of race” in Britain’s equality legislation.

This spring, campaigners have organised three rallies against caste discrimination. Photo: CasteWatchUK

Years of campaigning for a law to ban caste discrimination were finally rewarded yesterday, as the UK government made a u-turn and decided to offer legal protection to Britain’s hundreds of thousands of Dalits.

Following another government defeat in the House of Lords, which has now twice voted to outlaw caste discrimination, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced that the country’s Equality Act will “provide for caste to be an aspect of race”. A clause on caste discrimination already existed in this Act, but until now, the UK government had been reluctant to activate it.

Jo Swinson, the equalities minister, told the House of Commons that the government recognises that caste discrimination exists in the UK and that it is “unacceptable”. She added that “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.”

The decision is a great victory for campaigners who have for years tirelessly argued that Britain’s hundreds of thousands of Dalits who find themselves at the bottom of the caste hierarchy in the country’s Hindu and Sikh communities should be offered legal protection. From now on, it will be illegal to discriminate against Dalits on the basis of their caste.

When the news about the government’s change of heart reached the 1,000 demonstrators who had gathered outside Parliament as part of their campaign to outlaw caste discrimination, it was greeted with jubilation.

“We stand side by side today as we have done for the past 10 years to herald a victory and toast our Government for upholding the essential British notion of justice and equality,” said Meena Varma, Director of Dalit Solidarity Network UK.

The decision by the British government is historic as the UK becomes the first country in Europe – and indeed outside South Asia – to make caste discrimination illegal.

“The British government has taken an important and necessary step in outlawing caste discrimination. We hope that this decision will serve as an example to other countries. Caste discrimination is a global issue, affecting hundreds of millions of people in many parts of the world,” said Rikke Nöhrlind, coordinator of the International Dalit Solidarity Network.

Press release – UK outlaws caste discrimination (DSN-UK)

Caste discrimination in the UK (IDSN briefing paper)

Victory… as government concedes on caste discrimination (National Secular Society)

Caste discrimination to be outlawed by Equality Act (BBC)

Government back down over … caste discrimination (The Independent)

UK set to outlaw caste discrimination (DNA India)

Dalit Solidarity Network UK

UK: Fight for caste legislation goes on (IDSN news)

Rally decries UK government´caste policy (IDSN news)

IDSN database: Documents on the UK