Landmark win for dalits as UK bans caste bias


Kounteya Sinha, TNN Apr 26, 2013,
(Jo Swinson, the equalities…)

LONDONDalits in the United Kingdom have recorded a landmark victory after the British parliament finally agreed to outlaw caste discrimination.

In a major U-turn, the House of Commons, which had earlier trashed an amendment to include caste among other forms of discrimination, on Tuesday voted for legal protection for the four lakh dalits living in the UK.

This makes the UK the first country outside South Asia to legislate against caste discrimination. On Wednesday business secretary Vince Cables said “caste is to be outlawed in the UK”.

Jo Swinson, the equalities minister, told the House of Commons the government recognized that caste discrimination existed in the United Kingdom and it was “unacceptable”. She said “very strong views have been expressed in the Lords on this matter and we have reconsidered our position and agreed to introduce caste-related legislation”. “We hope that this decision will serve as an example to other countries,” said Rikke Nohrlind, coordinator of the International Dalit Solidarity Network. “Caste discrimination is a global issue, affecting hundreds of millions of people in many parts of the world.”

The House of Lords had voted twice in support of the amendment, but the House of Commons had had reservations against it. MPs on Tuesday overturned their earlier decision and decided that caste would in future be treated as “an aspect of race”.

The amendment is part of the Equality Act 2010. Till now, the Act prohibited race discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the workplace. The definition of “race” within the Act includes colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin but does not specifically refer to caste.

Conservative MP Richard Fuller said “caste discrimination in the workplace is wrong and the people who suffer from it deserve legal protection”. The issue has divided the Indian diaspora in the UK. While groups like Caste Watch UK had been rallying to urge MPs to introduce legal protection for those from traditionally lower-caste backgrounds, the Hindu Alliance has called for a boycott of the

 

UK wakes up to caste bias


Shalini Nair : London, Tue Mar 26 2013, IE
FP

For a place that is only one-fifteenth the size of London, Coventry has a large number of gurdwaras. Even that might not have seemed so incongruous considering that Sikhs are the largest ethnic minority in this Midlands town — but for the fact that caste-based, dividing lines are drawn within and among these places of worship.

Earlier this month, Britain took the first step towards formally acknowledging that caste-based discrimination exists, with the House of Lords voting in favour of including the concept in the Equality Act of 2010. If it gets the approval of the House of Commons, it will become unlawful to discriminate on the basis of caste in areas of employment, education and the provision of services.

“Caste will be added to the list of nine ‘protected characteristics’ in the equality legislation which at present includes race, sex and religion,” said Lord Eric Avebury, a Liberal Democrat peer, who was among those instrumental in moving the amendment. “The government’s inadequate proposals so far only advocate education as a means of eradicating caste, without providing for legal safeguards.”

The amendment has tread a protracted path due to the government’s reservations in the face of opposition from two influential Hindu organisations, and denial among dominant Sikh groups about the prevalence of casteism.

Discrimination in the UK is the result of tenaciously holding on to a sense of caste-based identity in a new homeland, with the hostility continuing from one generation to the next.

Ram Lakha, former mayor of Coventry, explains how since the establishment of the town’s oldest temple, the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Parkash, in the ’60s, there has been a gradual alienation of the lower castes who soon set up their own temples. Thus emerged the two Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha temples and Maharishi Valmiki temple besides several others.

Lakha himself battled caste prejudices when he was first elected a councillor from an area with a sizeable South Asian population in 1989. “When the local Brahmin leaders got to know that I am from a Dalit community, they started lobbying against my candidature. The only option for me was to contest the next election from the predominantly white neighbouring constituency,” said Lakha, a Labour councillor for 23 years now.

Besides Coventry, UK‘s estimated 480,000 Dalit population is mostly concentrated across 22 areas including Birmingham, Leicester, Bedford, East London and Southall.

At work and at school

As the House of Lords debated the amendment this month, scores from most of these places gathered at Parliament Square to make their voices heard. Most were first- or second-generation immigrants from Punjab with stories to tell — about being denied the right to distribute prasad in a gurdwara or perform puja in a temple in the UK, about children facing bullying in schools, about people being singled out at the workplace despite having adopted caste-neutral last names, about businessmen who found that their success couldn’t protect them from prejudices.

Legal recourse has not been an option, for local officials or office managements often don’t even understand the connotations of caste.

Anita Kaur, 40, of Leicester was born in Britain and raised with a surname that doesn’t reveal much about her ranking in the caste hierarchy. Nonetheless, she faces brazen queries about her caste at community clubs and temples. Her attempts at shielding her daughter from all this have not been impenetrable either.

“Sikhism doesn’t recognise caste. Page 349 of the Guru Granth Sahib says, ‘Do not enquire about one’s caste’,” says Kaur. “Still my daughter gets asked about her caste at school by other children from the community. And when she replies that she doesn’t know, she is told, ‘Go home and ask your parents’.”

The first case of alleged caste discrimination to be reported in UK newspapers was in 2010, that of Vijay Begraj and his wife Amardeep, both 34. In the absence of any legal framework on caste, they are still contesting their case at a Birmingham employment tribunal. As a business and finance manager at a law firm, he had worked his way up for six years, the same firm where she was a solicitor. Born in Britain, they believed this alone was their identity until it was redefined for them the day they decided to get married. Since then, he has been a Hindu Dalit and she a Sikh Jat.

“Our parents had absolutely no problem with our alliance,” says Vijay, whose father had emigrated from Punjab four decades ago and thought the baggage of caste hierarchy was behind him. “But then my three bosses found out that a girl from their community was planning to marry someone from a ‘lower’ caste.” He says that from warning her that “these people are different creatures” to sending him emails with excerpts from the scriptures reminding him of his ascribed subordinate status, his superiors at work did everything to dissuade them from marrying. Their detailed account — harassment, snide remarks, denial of pay hikes and promotions, culminating in his dismissal after seven years in service and her resignation — has been placed before the tribunal.

Satpal Mumum of Caste Watch UK says a member of his group deposed as an expert witness in Vijay’s case to explain the connotations of caste to the court. “In the evening when he returned home, the windows of his house were smashed,” he said.

Foreign concept

The government’s reluctance over discrimination legislation for caste was largely based on the uncertainty over its prevalence in the UK. The Government Equalities Office commissioned a report to establish the extent of such discrimination if any. The report, released in December 2010, was emphatic in its finding that there is a need for both discrimination and criminal legislation. It notes that while the caste system had its origins in Hinduism, in the UK it is particularly entrenched in Sikh communities. It cites several cases of alleged discrimination, overt and subtle, against Ravidassias and Valmikis by Jat Sikhs.

A 2009 study by the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance, with academics from three British universities, found 58 per cent of the 300 people surveyed confirming they had been discriminated against because of their caste, and 79 per cent pointing out that the UK police wouldn’t have understood if they had reported such discrimination as a ‘hate crime’.

Another study, in 2006 by the UK Dalit Solidarity Network, went into caste prejudices in temples, the workplace, politics, health care and education. In a foreword to the report, Jeremy Corbyn, DSN chairman and MP, notes that prejudice “has been exported to the UK through the Indian diaspora. The same attitudes of superiority, pollution and separateness appear to be present in South Asian communities now settled in the UK.”

Corbyn told The Indian Express, “I represent a constituency in Central London where this is much less prevalent unlike in many other places outside where it is a serious human rights violation, one that is difficult to prove unless the legislation is in place.”

 

No escape from caste prejudice even in UK #discrimination #humanrights


By, TNN | Mar 16, 2013,

No escape from caste prejudice even in UK
Many Indians in the work place say they have faced a great deal of harassment from other Indians on grounds of caste.
LONDON: If you happen to be of Dalit origin, or from the so-called lower castes, migrating out of India may not help you escape discrimination. India’s infamous caste system has reared its ugly head in the United Kingdom.School children from the lower castes have been taunted with casteist slurs like “bhangi” and “chamar” from other Indian school children of a higher caste. Many Indians in the work place say they have faced a great deal of harassment from other Indians on grounds of caste.

This has resulted in widespread protests across England. Human rights activists and Dalit organizations in the UK are campaigning for the enforcement of a clause in UK Equality Act that mentions the Indian caste system.

One of the worst instances of discrimination took place in central England, in a city called Coventry. “An elderly Dalit lady was receiving home care from the city council, who would send a council worker to her house to bathe her. One of the council workers happened to be an Indian of a higher caste. When she discovered the lady was Dalit, she refused to give her a bath,” says Lekh Pall, an activist with the Anti-discrimination Alliance.

Harbans Lal Bali, a retired employee of UK’s Royal Mail, who lives in the suburbs of London, recalls the harassment he faced at the Post Office when he was temporarily promoted to the post of supervisor. “I got to know that some of the people under me, who were Indians of a higher caste, complained to the management about my promotion. They said that they were not used to taking orders from people of my caste,” he says.

There has also been an instance where an Indian of a lower caste was in a relationship with another Indian from a higher caste in the same office. Both were asked to leave their jobs by their employer, who was an upper caste Indian.

Lekh Pall was amongst those who campaigned for the inclusion of caste under the Equality Act 2010, as a form of racial discrimination. “We presented the House of Lords with a great deal of evidence when the Bill was being passed. They made an amendment to the Bill and included caste as an aspect of race. When the Bill was sent to the House of Commons, ministers were in favour of conducting their own study on the subject before including it in the law,” he adds.

The UK government commissioned a nation wide study on the issue and came out with a report showing that there was “evidence suggesting caste discrimination” in the UK with regards to “work (bullying, recruitment, promotion, task allocation), provision of services and education (pupil on pupil bullying)”. Though the Equality Act does mention caste, Dalit organizations say they are upset that this clause has yet to be enforced.

House of Lords voted to Outlaw Caste discrimination in UK


Historic victory for Dalits

Arun Kumar, Bedford, UK

 

4th March, 2013 is a momentous day in the history of Dalit movement in the UK when the House of Lords voted overwhelmingly in favour of including caste discrimination in the Equality Act 2010. 256 peers from all parties voted for the amendment and 153 voted against.  If this amendment is passed in the House of Commons, it will give the same legal protection as people who face discrimination on the basis of gender, sexuality or race.  United Kingdom will be the first country in the Western Hemisphere to give legal protection to the victims of caste discrimination.

Coinciding with the debate in the Parliament, hundreds of people from various organisations representing Ravidassias, Valmikis, Buddhists, Ambedkarites and Christians in the UK marched in front of British Parliament in support of the amendment in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill tabled by Lord Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford and Chairman of All Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits and the Labour Party Equality spokes person in the Lords, Lady Thornton.  They demanded the implementation of the findings of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) report published in 2010 commissioned by the Government Equalities Office to determine the extent of caste based discrimination (CBD) in the UK. NIESR found out that there was an ample evidence of CBD and recommended legal protection for the victims of caste prejudice. But the Government was not prepared to include caste in the legislation and opposed change in the law.

Introducing the amendment, Lord Harries, the bishop of Oxford said, “We know in the case of race that nothing has been more effective in reducing racial prejudice than the law. It has had a most powerful educative effect”. He further stated, “Nothing could be more significant and effective in reducing discrimination on the grounds of caste than to have a clear-cut law that discrimination in the public law would not be tolerated”.

The Government was not prepared to include caste in the legislation and opposed change in the law saying it had set up an education programme to tackle caste discrimination. But peers said this was not enough, and the law needed to be changed. The peers voted in favour of the amendment and defeated the government.

Despite the overwhelming majority in favor of this legislation, the government response was not encouraging. On behalf of the government, Baroness Stowell accepted that there was some evidence of caste discrimination but education program was an appropriate way of dealing with the incidents relating to caste. “We do not believe that introducing specific caste-based legislation is the best way to tackle the incidents of caste-related prejudice and discrimination that have been identified – many of which occur in areas not covered by discrimination law, such as in volunteering,” said a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

For a number of years many organisations were campaigning to outlaw caste discrimination. The campaigners have done a marvellous effort to highlight the issue of caste discrimination in the UK and worked hard to lobby at various levels to get the support. They must be congratulated. Dalit Solidarity Network, UK, Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, UK, Federation of Ambedkarite & Buddhist Organisation, UK (FABO, UK), Caste Watch, UK and Voice of Dalits, UK (VODI) are some of the organisations who spearheaded the campaign and achieved a historic success

 

Kind Regards

 

Employment tribunal hearing first claim for caste discrimination collapses


Thursday 14 February 2013 21.52 GMT, Guradian

Amardeep and Vijay Begraj

Judge recuses herself after visit by police officers

Amardeep, left, and Vijay Begraj sought an employment tribunal hearing over alleged caste discrimination at the law firm where they worked. Photograph: Adam Gerrard

Sam Jones

An employment tribunal hearing the first claim for unfair dismissal on the grounds of caste discrimination has collapsed after information handed to the judge by police led the judge to recuse herself from the case.

Vijay Begraj, a former practice manager at the Coventry solicitors firm Heer Manak, and his wife Amardeep, a former solicitor at the same firm, had claimed that they were discriminated against because he is from a lower Asian caste than she is.

Vijay Begraj is from a Dalit background – the caste formerly known as “untouchables” – while Amardeep is from the higher Jat caste, the same caste as their employers.

The tribunal, which sat for a total of 36 days, heard allegations that the couple had suffered caste-based discrimination, humiliation, victimisation and harassment as a result of their relationship.

Begraj claims a colleague told him that he was lucky to be a practice manager in the UK as his caste meant he would have been a cleaner in India. He also told the tribunal that he had been assaulted by two relatives of one of the firm’s partners and had been called derogatory names relating to his Dalit status. Heer Manak has described the claims as “ludicrous” and “outrageous”.

On 5 February, after sitting since August 2011 to consider 110 allegations, the tribunal was abandoned after the judge, Merry Cocks, recused herself in the wake of a private visit from two West Midlands police officers four months earlier.

The officers asked to speak to her on 19 October last year, a day after Davinder Prasad, general secretary of Caste Watch UK – who had given recently evidence at the tribunal for Mrs Begraj – told police that the windows of his home had been smashed.

After Cocks had told both parties of the police visit a week later, Heer Manak’s lawyers made an application for the tribunal to recuse itself on the grounds that the information handed over by the police may have given rise to bias.

Although Mr and Mrs Begraj’s legal team opposed the application, arguing that the tribunal was used to disregarding extraneous material, Cocks decided to recuse herself, adding that she was “very much aware of the consequences of this decision for all the parties”.

The couple’s solicitor, Jonathan Naylor, a partner at Shoosmiths, said that his clients were “extremely disappointed” by the decision and were considering an appeal. He said: “The actions of the police and the tribunal, completely beyond our clients’ control, appear to have deprived Mr and Mrs Begraj of a just resolution of their claims. We think it is a matter of great concern and regret that substantial time and costs, including significant amounts of taxpayers’ money, have seemingly been wasted.”

He added that their case had already led to questions being asked in the House of Lords about the caste system and its impact on the UK.

“The tribunal’s decision to disqualify itself leaves our clients without a fair conclusion to their serious complaints of caste-based discrimination, victimisation and harassment. Mr and Mrs Begraj are rightly concerned that, after two years of pursuing justice, they have been denied this during the last few days of the tribunal process,” he said.

“Such an outcome will surely deter other victims of discrimination from pursuing genuine claims.”

The judiciary of England and Wales confirmed that police had approached the judge and that she had “quite appropriately” decided to recuse herself “on the basis that it could lead to a perception of bias on the judge’s part”.

A spokesman for West Midlands police said that it was investigating a complaint relating to “the circumstances of police interaction” with the judge. The spokesman added: “The investigation is being carried out by the Professional Standards department of West Midlands police working with the Independent Complaints Commission.” It said the two officers concerned had not been suspended and were carrying on with their usual duties.

 

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