In a historic move, the House of Lords has paved the way for legislation that will make caste-based discrimination illegal in the UK. Such a ban would also serve as an example to other countries.

The amendment was passed by the House of Lords.

The UK government is prepared to ban caste discrimination if research shows that Dalits are being treated unfairly in the workplace.

On 2 March, the House of Lords voted for an amendment to the Equalities Bill, which, according to government minister Baroness Thornton, would “prohibit unlawful discrimination and harassment because of caste in the same way as for colour, ethnicity, nationality and ethnic or national origins.”

The UK government, however, feels that there is a need for more in-depth research on caste discrimination among South Asian immigrants before such steps can be taken. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research will carry out the research and present its findings in July and August.

Lord Avebury, a Liberal Democrat Peer, who moved the amendment to the Bill, said that he believed that such research would “conclusively prove that caste discrimination does occur in the fields covered by the bill.” Those fields include the promotion of equality and non-discrimination in the workplace.

There is growing evidence of caste discrimination among the hundreds of thousands of UK citizens of South Asian origin. A recent report by the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance showed that caste discrimination is indeed rife in the UK and that it also occurs in the workplace.

The Dalit Solidarity Network UK (DSN-UK) has lobbied intensively for the inclusion of caste in the Equalities Bill. DSN-UK Director Meena Varma expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the vote in the House of Lords, but warned that this is not the time to be complacent.

“The Government has made a positive move in promising more research in this area. We believe, however, that the process should not be delayed and that legislation should be enacted now. The Government needs to do what is morally right and protect the victims of caste discrimination in the UK. By taking such a step, it can also set a powerful example for other countries where this appalling form of discrimination exists,” she said.

House of Lords ‘caste’ debate 2 March 2010

Joint statement on Equalities Bill by UK organisations

Press clippings on the debate

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