When the Equality Bill was going through the Lords in 2010, I moved an amendment with LibDem support, giving the Government power to add caste to the list of ‘protected characteristics’, making it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of caste in employment, education and the provision of services.
Baroness Thornton, the Minister dealing with the Bill for the Labour Government, accepted the amendment. But the Government decided that further research was needed, and they gave the job to the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR). It reported in December 2010 that there was indeed evidence of caste discrimination in the UK .
In the 27 months since then, the Coalition has persistently refused either to activate the power or to say point blank that they will not do so, perhaps bearing in mind the strong views in favour expressed by representatives of the UK’s estimated 860,000 Dalits  .
So Lord Harries, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Dalits Group, supported by Baroness Thornton, Lord Deben a Conservative former Minister and myself will ask the Lords to persuade them on March 4.
The Government concede that caste discrimination exists here, but they are not convinced that legislation is the best way of dealing with it.
They claim that there is ‘no consensus of opinion (sic) with regards (sic) to the need for legislative protection against caste discrimination, even amongst those communities potentially most affected by it’.
Minister in the Lords Baroness Verma  made this assertion on the basis of representations by two organisations representing higher caste Hindus at a single meeting on March 15, 2011.
When challenged, she said that the expression ‘those communities potentially most affected’ meant not the victims of discrimination, but ‘the wider Hindu and Sikh communities’ , although neither then or subsequently had any Sikh organisation been in touch with the Government on the issue. Nor would they; the Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion said that ‘In his mother’s womb, no man knows his caste’.
Baroness Verma’s explanation was like saying that ending apartheid in South Africa was wrong because white organisations were opposed to the idea.
To claim that the coverage of this provision would be significantly wider than discrimination against people of the Dalit communities, as another Minister did,  would only be valid if there were any evidence of discrimination among the higher castes. There is none, nor has any been alleged.
Recently, Ministers have raised an additional objection: that ‘needless red tape and additional, unnecessary cost burdens for businesses’ might be caused by this provision .
Businesses would have to investigate allegations of caste discrimination, as presumably they do already. As the Minister for Equalities says, ‘we obviously do not think that anyone should suffer prejudice or discrimination, whether it is because of caste or any other characteristic. Such behaviour is wrong and should not be condoned whether or not it is prohibited by legislation’ .
If a complaint is made today of alleged discrimination on grounds of caste, it would be the normal duty of the employer, educational establishment or provider of services to conduct an investigation, and to take remedial action if it was proved.
The difference would be, if our motion is carried, that the complainant who is not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation would have the right to take the matter to the law, as with every other protected characteristic. It is only at that stage that extra work is required.
The Prime Minister says that ‘legislation would involve the Government asking every employer, school and service provider in the country to accept potential liability for preventing caste discrimination…’ . But they already have this duty for the other protected characteristics, and it does not appear to have been a significant burden. The Government have not sought to repeal any of the existing characteristics on those grounds.
The Impact Assessment at the time of the Bill said that the cost to employers and providers of goods, facilities and services of making caste a protected characteristic would arise from the number of cases taken to courts and tribunals, including compensation or out of court settlement costs . There would be ‘familiarisation costs’ presumably one-off.
All we are asking Parliament to say is that in the Equality Act, ‘race’ includes caste as well as colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins. The apparent rarity of caste discrimination  means that it will seldom cause any additional work at all.
But even if there is only handful of cases, the victims of caste discrimination have the right to legal redress. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination says so; the UN Universal Periodic Review of the UK says so; the UK’s own Equality and Human Rights Commission says so. Now Parliament will have its say.
 National Institute for Economic and Social Research, Caste discrimination and harassment in the UK
 Dr Raj Chand (Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha UK), Eugene Culas (Voice of Dalit International), Santosh Dass (Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance), Sat Pal Muman (CasteWatchUK), Meena Varma (Dalit Solidarity Network UK), unpublished letter to Helen Grant MP, Equalities Minister, February 8, 2013
 Official Report 28 Nov 2911 Col WA12
 Baroness Verma, letter to Lord Avebury, February 2, 2012
 Lynne Featherstone, letter to Lord Avebury May 17, 2012
 Prime Minister, letter to Lord Avebury, January 29, 2013
 The Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, letter to Lord Avebury, December 6, 2013
 Prime Minister, ibid
 NIESR, ibid
* Eric Lubbock, Lord Avebury, is a working peer, and Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group. He blogs here.