In a U-turn policy change the UK Government has decided that despite reports commissioned by the Government itself finding evidence of caste-based rights violations in the UK, caste will not be included as a protected characteristic alongside race, religion and ethnicity in the UK Equalities Act.

The decision, which the Government states is due to the ‘controversial nature’ of the issue, comes following many years of procedural delays in implementing a clause that would include caste under the remit of the UK Equalities Act. A parliamentary order in 2013 directed the Government to “amend this section [of the Equalities Act] so as to provide for caste to be an aspect of race”. Despite this order the Government has delayed implementation and in 2017 launched a public consultation on the issue, to explore public opinion on the subject.

The results of the public consultation were recently released finding that a majority of respondents preferred that caste was not included under the remit of the Equality Act. The conclusion of the analysis of the results state that the Government will now be seeking to repeal the proposed caste clause in the Equality Act. In the report they write that,

”We feel this is the more proportionate approach given the extremely low numbers of cases involved and the clearly controversial nature of introducing “caste”, as a self-standing element, into British domestic law…Reliance on case-law, and the scope for individuals to bring claims of caste discrimination under “ethnic origins” rather than “caste” itself, is likely to create less friction between different groups and help community cohesion.”

Thus the Government public consultation report finds that victims of caste discrimination in the UK would be better served relying on case law and protected under the remits of ethnicity or religion in the existing legislation.

“We are deeply disappointed that the UK Government chooses to leave a section of its citizens with no proper recourse to justice in relation to caste-related rights violations committed against them.” Said IDSN Director, Meena Varma.

“Relying on case law to protect against caste discrimination in the UK is a profoundly flawed strategy and anyone with just minimal knowledge of caste discrimination will also know that it is not adequately covered under discrimination based on ethnicity or religion, as those at the ‘bottom’ of the caste system are often of the same ethnic background and religion as those at the ‘top’.”

Two years ago, during the review of the UK, The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended to ‘invoke section 9 (5) (a) of the Equality Act 2010 without further delay to ensure that caste-based discrimination is explicitly prohibited under law and that victims of this form of discrimination have access to effective remedies, taking into account the Committee’s general recommendation No. 29 (2002) on descent’. ‘

Despite these and other experts advising the UK to not turn a blind-eye to caste discrimination in their substantial diaspora communities, the reality is now that if you are a Dalit living in the UK you will not be able to seek legal redress against caste-based discrimination if you cannot tie your case to ethnic or religious discrimination.


More information:

UK Government analysis and report on the consultation response

Key facts on the history of the struggle to ensure UK legislation on caste discrimination

UK caste consultation extended after pressure from human rights defenders (IDSN News)

Documentary film on the fight to legislate caste in the UK

IDSN’s page on caste discrimination in the UK