Lord Avebury: Caste adrift

The Government acknowledge that Caste discrimination in the UK is a fact. But they were not convinced that legislation against it was necessary until April, when they agreed reluctantly to make caste a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act. They appeared to be converted after suffering two defeats on the issue in the Lords and running out of time to complete their  programme for the session that was about to end.

But since then, Equality Minister Helen Grant has said plainly that she doesn’t agree with the proposal, defying the Cabinet Office Code which says that once a decision is made, Ministers have to support it.

She has ignored requests for a meeting with organisations representing the Dalits, the potential victims of caste discrimination.

When she did meet peers on May 14 to discuss progress on implementing the provision which had been agreed by Parliament, she said she had been too busy with same-sex marriage to think about it.

But she found time to see a large delegation from anti-legislation groups.

The day the Lords rose for the summer recess, the Government finally published their timetable for implementing the new law. It had been pushed into the long grass, with no opportunity for the Lords to comment until October.

First there will be research programmes by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) lasting six months. This will provide a definition of caste, and provide a baseline on the extent of caste discrimination, for comparison with the situation in five years’ time.

Only after that work has been done will the first set of consultations be held, starting in March 2014. There is no objective reason why the two processes shouldn’t have been conducted in parallel.

In the summer of 2014 the Government will analyse the responses and engage with employers, public authorities and the judiciary, who they say will lack familiarity with caste. But everybody will know about the public sector equality duty, which came into force more than two years ago.

The Government will than respond to the consultation and draft an Affirmative Order.to be published in the autumn of 2014.

There will then be a second consultation on the Order itself, surely an unnecessary exercise when presumably it will have taken into account the first consultation just completed. That will end in February 2015, and a further Government response will follow.

The final Order will be laid before Parliament in the summer of 2015, after the general election. That was no doubt in accordance with the instructions from Tory ministers.

The objectives of this long drawn out process include ‘determining the appropriateness of caste legislation’, a question that will figure in both consultations. The Government will be hoping that the anti-legislation lobby will raise a deafening chorus of opposition.

They could then refrain from laying the Order, and the proposal would be dead.

Inevitably, this politicises the question of caste discrimination. Since there is no certainty about the process and it reaches a climax around polling day 2015, it is bound to figure in the manifestos of all three Parties. The Tories may gain a few votes by the delay from people belonging to higher castes, but the 400,000 Dalits in the UK will have their say at last.


See also Mary Reid’s earlier comment: Conservatives block moves to outlaw caste discrimination

* Eric Lubbock, Lord Avebury, is a working peer, and Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group. He blogs here.

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • David White 2nd Aug '13 - 1:29pm

    It is disgraceful that caste discrimination is still permitted in the UK. It should have been outlawed decades ago. And what is this nonsense about ’employers, public authorities and the judiciary’ being unfamiliar with caste? If they don’t know about it already they should be sacked!

  • Martin Caffrey 2nd Aug '13 - 2:25pm

    I wonder what Caste these illegal immigrants are from that you’re rounding up and proudly boasting about on Twitter? At least when you build the internment camps to house these people that will generate jobs.

    Well done!

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Aug '13 - 4:05pm

    How on earth are employers supposed to know what caste people are ?

  • nuclear cockroach 2nd Aug '13 - 4:17pm

    @Simon McGrath

    Presumably if a person comes from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nepal, or if they descended from people from those country’s, then they may well have some fair idea of someone else’s caste.

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Aug '13 - 5:42pm

    If employers are not aware of a person’s caste they will not be discriminating against them. But the evidence for discrimination against Dalits is very clear. This does seem to be a case where lobbying by high-caste employers etc is carrying weight with the Tories who are reneging on a commitment they made recently in the Lords. No doubt there is money (political donations) involved too as so often seems to be the case when the Tories make otherwise perplexing decisions.

    Eric Avebury has done brilliant work on this along with his fellow campaigners. I hope the powers that be in the Liberal Democrats will go into battle as well.


  • Simon McGrath 2nd Aug '13 - 7:24pm

    @Nuclear @ Tony
    But what if it is one employee discriminating against another on grounds of caste? How is the employer supposed to know what caste people are?

  • nuclear cockroach 2nd Aug '13 - 8:42pm

    @Simon McGrath

    If the employer is Indian, etc., (s)he is likely to know an employee’s caste.

    If an employee, however, discriminates against another employee, on whatever grounds, then the employer has questions to answer about their HR policies and their application.

  • Stephen Hesketh 2nd Aug '13 - 9:16pm

    @Simon McGrath “How on earth are employers supposed to know what caste people are ?”
    And how on earth are employers supposed to know about someone’s sexual orientation, religion, if newly pregnant etc? None can necessarily be determined by appearance but all are covered in existing legislation.

    Legislating against this form of discrimination will send a powerful message to those considering practicing it and a wider message regarding the values citizens of these islands are expected to uphold.

    Once legislation is in place, those discriminated against would have the right to have their cases heard via tribunals or courts.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 3rd Aug '13 - 10:38am

    Caste like Class and other forms of discrimination is a blight on the history and culture of not just some, but all groups in society, and in the 21st Century it is not acceptable either in the UK, or for that matter anywhere else. I would applaud seeing the adoption of Caste (and Class) as one of the protected characteristics within the Equality Act.

    Unfortunately though on the very night that the Lords so enthusiastically voted in Lord Avebury’s amendment, I watched as the Lords “gave with one hand and took away with the other” and decided not to save from the Tory knife some of the equalities legislation that would be used to police this and other forms of discrimination.

    As with the passing of the Same Sex Marriage legislation, the inclusion of Caste Discrimination is excellent, but unless we have robust and meaningful checking mechanisms to ensure that the victims of discrimination have some form of redress, then our laudable actions remain partially hollow.

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