Caste Discrimination: Asian Britain's Bigotry

Article excerpt

The Equality and Human Rights Commission was launched in October with much Establishment whooping and was heralded as the unified answer to discrimination. But, when asked about its stance towards caste discrimination among British Asians, the commission's reply was brisk; although its priorities are constantly updated, it has "no plans to look at this issue at the current time".

This response is typical of official attitudes to the problem, which is only now starting to be raised by the efforts of activists. The EHRC can hardly be blamed for not having a policy when caste "is not currently recognised or featured in any UK legislation", according to Annapurna Waughray, an expert on caste in the law.

There is a corresponding lack of detailed research and statistics on the subject. Meena Varma, chair of Dalit Solidarity Network UK, claims that "the government is wary of legislating on something which it is not convinced exists. It thinks it is all anecdotal evidence." But, as Jeremy Corbyn MP points out: "If you don't look, you won't find. I remember conversations with policemen 20 years ago when they said domestic violence wasn't a big problem."

Caste divisions certainly exist for those willing to look. Testimonies collated by Caste Watch UK and DSN range from harassment at work to bullying at school and even extend to politics. At a conference at the Palace of Westminster in November, Caste Watch presented evidence from victims as part of its campaign to have caste included in the forthcoming Single Equality Bill, due in this parliament. The civil servants drafting the bill say they will respond to the charities' submissions early this year.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The chance of caste being recognised is complicated by the reluctance of those from lower castes to come forward. "Often these people have gone to great lengths to put their caste behind them; they've changed their names, moved to a different country, made a new life for themselves. Why on earth would they want to expose themselves to that stigma again?" asks Varma.

Rob Marris MP, present at the CasteWatch conference, urged the government to "cut the Gordian knot and leave aside the question of evidence. What is needed is political will: if we've decided that it's wrong, let's make it illegal. …