Tens of thousands of people of South Asian origin face caste discrimination in the workplace, the classroom and the doctor’s surgery, says a new study by the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA). The Alliance is campaigning to make caste discrimination illegal in the UK.

Caste discrimination is widespread in South Asian diaspora communities in the UK. According to a new report, more than half of the 300 respondents to an ACDA survey claimed to have suffered discrimination because of their caste. Almost three quarters of the survey responses came from people identifying themselves as Dalits.

The vast majority of respondents – 79 per cent – stated that they would not be understood appropriately by the UK police service if they reported a hate crime incident based on caste discrimination, and 85 per cent believed that they were not protected from this type of discrimination by UK legislation.

The report titled “Hidden Apartheid – Voice of the Community” cites numerous examples of discrimination. One woman was demoted from her job at a radio station after her manager discovered her caste background, while one bus company in Southampton decided to reorganise shifts so that a “higher caste” inspector would not have to work alongside a “lower caste” bus driver.

Almost half of the respondents said that co-workers had treated them negatively or made comments about their caste status. A common form of discrimination is caste-related name calling. Dalits are referred to in derogatory terms that are associated with occupations regarded as being beneath the dominant castes.

“These names are deliberately used to offend and provoke. They are hurtful and exceedingly offensive,” the report says.

Other cases of caste discrimination occur at schools – where teachers as well as pupils are perpetrators – and in the healthcare sector. According to the report, doctors and nurses of South Asian origin are known to ask patients about their caste background. Allegedly, a physiotherapist refused to treat someone of lower caste status.

The report was launched this week at an event in the House of Lords. It concludes that “there is a danger that if the UK government does not effectively accept and deal with the issue of caste discrimination the problem will grow unchecked.”

ACDA is campaigning to make caste discrimination illegal in the UK and hopes to persuade the government to amend its equality bill to include this form of discrimination. As Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone states in the report: “Caste discrimination, like other forms of discrimination, needs to be outlawed. This is the evidence that will prove the case for its inclusion in the equality bill.”

Download an executive summary of the report here

For news reports, click: The Guardian; Outlook India

Click here for the ACDA homepage

Click here for the Dalit Solidarity Network – UK homepage