Yearly Archives: 2012

Yearly Archives: 2012

Dec 03 2012

Maria Miller MP publicily urged to act on caste-based discrimination UK

by Meena Varma in News

A coalition of community groups, human rights organisations and politicians has renewed its call for the government to tackle caste discrimination in the UK by introducing legal protection for those from traditionally lower status Asian backgrounds. Although a section of the Equality Act 2010 could offer lower-caste Asians a legal safeguard against discrimination, it has not been activated despite repeated demands from campaigners. Supporters of the legislation say the law is needed to prevent discrimination at work, in the classroom and in the health service. Two separate studies – one commissioned by the government from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (Niesr) after the act was amended to include the power to extend protection against discrimination and harassment to caste – have reported the existence of caste-based discrimination in the UK, but no official steps have been taken. A survey published three years ago by the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance found that 58% of those questioned felt they had been discriminated against because of their caste status, while 79% said they did not think the police would understand if they tried to report a caste-related “hate crime”. A law practice manager and his solicitor wife are also currently engaged in the UK’s first discrimination claim on the grounds of caste prejudice. Vijay Begraj claims he suffered discrimination and was wrongfully dismissed from his job at the firm where they both worked because he was of a lower caste than his wife, Amardeep. The Coventry-based firm, Heer Manak, denies the claim, which it describes as “ludicrous”. A conference at the House of Lords on Wednesday heard that Dalits (the caste formerly known as “untouchables”) and others affected by the caste system are growing increasingly exasperated by the lack of action. Lord Avebury, a Liberal Democrat member of the all-party parliamentary group for Dalits, has since written to the equalities minister, Maria Miller, to express the conference’s “great disappointment … over the government’s procrastination, and the absence of any credible reason for the delay”. He also asked whether the government’s failure to act had anything to do with objections made by members of the higher castes. “We only know that you have been lobbied by high-caste representatives, and this has led you to say that there is no consensus for bringing section 9 (5)a into operation,” he wrote. “This was seen as equivalent to saying there should be no legislation against racial discrimination because white people might object to it!” His demands were echoed by Lady Thornton, the shadow equalities spokesperson, who said: “Now that the research has been done and the government has got the evidence, it shouldn’t delay looking at it.” A spokeswoman for Miller’s department, the DCMS, said: “We are carefully considering the findings of the Niesr report on caste discrimination, together with the views expressed by various sections of the Hindu and Sikh communities, both those who want the government to legislate and those who oppose such legislation.” She said no one should have to endure discrimination or prejudice on the grounds of caste or any other personal characteristic, adding: “Such behaviour is wrong and should not be condoned whether or not it is prohibited by legislation.” The DCMS confirmed that Avebury’s letter had been received and that a response was being prepared. A joint statement issued by dozens of anti-discrimination and human rights groups is demanding that the government activate the legislation immediately. “By not acting on the evidence presented to it, which we regard as highly significant, we believe that the UK government is discriminating against victims (mainly Dalits) of caste-based discrimination in the UK who are not given a similar level of protection accorded to victims of other forms of unacceptable discrimination,” it says. “There is complete consensus amongst groups and individuals that are affected by caste-based discrimination in the UK on this matter and the urgent need to invoke section 9 (5)a of the Equality Act 2010. Maria Miller M.P, the Equalities Minister . Photograph : David Jones/PA Sam Jones: ‘The Guardian’ Friday 30 November 2012  – 15.51. GMT Eric Avebury : Anti Caste Discrimination meeting November 28th House of Lords For more on this meeting –  hit the link to Lord Avebury’s blog (below) http://ericavebury.blogspot.co.uk/ Why won’t the Government get serious about Caste Discrimination ?? For more on this article – hit the link (below) http://www.secularism.org.uk/blog/2012/11/why-wont-the-government-get-serious-about-caste-discrimination

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Nov 29 2012

Successful meeting at ‘House of Lords’

by Meena Varma in News

Why is the UK Government ignoring Caste based discrimination in the UK ?  A ‘Joint Statement’ urging the Government to act has been signed by a number of Dalit Community and Solidarity organisations; representing the views of the majority of Dalits, themselves, within the UK. It was presented to Baroness Thornton, the shadow spokesperson on Equalities, who urged us to ensure that it was also presented to the Goverment’s Equalities Minister : Maria Miller MP [hit the link to view the ‘Joint Statement’] Joint Statement on Caste Based Discrimination in the UK 28 November 2012  

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Oct 24 2012

Please Sign The Petition !

by Meena Varma in News

Please sign the Petition (link at end of page) We need a big result in order to persuade Maria Miller MP to ‘trigger the clause!!’ As you may know, despite the inclusion of caste as a factor of discrimination in the 2010 Equality Act, the lack of Ministerial activation of Clause 9(5)(a) has prevented access to recourse and justice to those who have faced this ‘hidden apartheid’. The importance of this has been exemplified with an on-going employment tribunal – Coventry solicitors Vijay and Amardeep Begraj v. Heer Manak Solicitors. The couple have recorded over 100 instances of discrimination including harassment, reduced pay and unfair dismissal – all because they formed a relationship across the invisible caste divide. This is the first case of caste discrimination to gain such widespread attention in the UK; though of course, this has been a growing issue for a long time. As we wait for further developments in the case of the Begraj dispute, we urge you to sign a petition to indicate your support for our call to the Minister for Equalities, Maria Miller MP to activate the aforementioned clause in the Equality Act, and ensure that caste discrimination is outlawed in the UK. You can find the petition here:  https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/outlaw-caste-discrimination-in-the-uk-activate-clause-9-5-a      

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Oct 23 2012

Tesco Supermarkets – India

by Meena Varma in News

India’s ‘untouchable’ caste has thrown its support behind Tesco and other foreign supermarkets’ bid to open stores, believing they could help to lift them out of poverty. Hit the link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/9614912/Tesco-helping-Indias-Dalit-caste-out-of-poverty.html

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Oct 23 2012

Equality and Human Rights Commission – Position on Caste discrimination

by Meena Varma in News

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s position on caste discrimination is now on their website here: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/legal-and-policy/equality-act/ and here: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/legal-and-policy/equality-act/commission-policy-statement-on-caste-discrimination/

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Oct 15 2012

The UK Government continues to stonewall demands to outlaw caste discrimination

by Meena Varma in News

DALIT SOLIDARITY NETWORK UK Press information (October 1. 2012)  Despite leaving the Indian subcontinent, many UK citizens from the South Asian diaspora continue to experience the effects of the caste system in their daily lives. Research has indicated that there is particular prevalence in the UK for those of ‘lower castes’ to experience discrimination, prejudice or abuse in employment, education and the provision of goods and services. The traditional caste system begins with Brahmins (priests, academics) at the top, and continues downwards to Kshatriyas (warriors, kings), Vaisyas (business community) and then a caste of servants and labourers. Beneath this hierarchy are those considered untouchable; self-described Dalits who are relegated to doing the most inhumane and dirty work as their purported classification doesn’t even deem them worthy of a place in the caste system. Caste discrimination is still perfectly legal in the United Kingdom, but an ongoing employment tribunal in the Midlands town of Coventry may begin to challenge the current legislation. Vijay Begraj, 32, a Dalit, married his colleague Amardeep Begraj, a Sikh Jat – considered to be of high caste. Their Sikh employers, Heer Manak Solicitors did not take kindly to their romance –engaging in a campaign of harassment which resulted in Vijay’s dismissal and Amardeep’s resignation. The pair has lodged over a hundred instances of discrimination in the workplace, many of them on the basis of caste. This is the first British legal case where unfair and constructive dismissals have been claimed due to caste. Recently compiled data however indicates this is just one of many cases of caste discrimination in the UK. In 2006, the first report into British caste discrimination entitled “No Escape: Caste Discrimination in the UK” was published by the Dalit Solidarity Network UK. This study revealed that 50% of Dalits found themselves to be identified by their caste, and 85% of all those questioned believed that Indians “actively practised and participated in the caste system”. A 2009 study commissioned by Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance researched attitudes and perceptions of caste discrimination among the South Asian community in Britain. Of the 300 people questioned, 71% identified themselves as Dalits, and a shocking 58% claimed to have experienced some form of caste discrimination. The manner by which people had experienced this prejudice varies; with around 45% having experienced negative treatment in the workplace (mostly from colleagues), and 16 percent facing verbal abuse in school when under the age of twelve. A disturbing statistic also indicated that 10% of the caste discrimination that under-12s had experienced allegedly came from school teachers. Particular professions with a tendency to employ a large number of South Asians have indicated a far higher awareness of caste discrimination than other parts of society. For example, 25% of those questioned in the ACDA report about healthcare provisions revealed that their family doctor had inquired about their caste. In the YouGov   survey, 95% of those with nursing qualifications identified a desire for companies and organisations to be more ethical to get rid of caste discrimination.  Numerous reports of personal experience have shown that a ‘glass ceiling’ exists for Dalits throughout employment in Britain, and especially in the National Health Service. One of the key problems with caste discrimination in the UK is that those affected by it have little idea about how to improve their situation. Around 4 in 5 of those surveyed described how they did not believe that the police would understand if they reported a caste-related discrimination incident. The fear of not being understood is valid, as a recent YouGov poll indicated that Dalits are only known to around 6% of Britons. Additionally, 85% of those polled accurately identified that there is no legislation to protect them from caste discrimination in the UK. Several other European nations indicated the prevalence of caste discrimination – though awareness was proven to be higher elsewhere. In the UK, just 54% of those polled were aware of caste discrimination, compared to 74% in Finland. The Equality Act 2010 brought in by the Labour government was designed to harmonise all equality law to outlaw discriminatory practices throughout the UK. Despite ensuring the protection of people victimised due to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and disability, the Act has not protected those facing caste discrimination. Clause 9 (5) (a) of the Equality Act indicates an intention for “caste to be an aspect of race”, and therefore protected. However, due to the government’s supposed lack of evidence on the issue, this particular clause has not been activated – and is thus, not law. This is in spite of a government-commissioned research project by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) published by the Equalities Office in December 2010 that acknowledged the severe discrimination Dalits face in the UK. Conclusions indicated that legislation would send out a message that “caste discrimination and harassment are unacceptable”, and that police would “take caste-related crime seriously”. In reality, this clause has yet to be activated due to political pressure from outside groups – including the Hindu Forum of Britain who declared in a 2008 report that caste discrimination is “not endemic in British society”. Caste, the HFB claimed, is not discrimination that affects “the provision of education, employment or goods and services in the UK”, but simply a factor that may, as HFB Secretary General puts it, “play a role in social interactions and personal choices”. Extensive research, including the aforementioned surveys, indicates the findings of the HFB to be false. As part of his vehement opposition to the activation of Clause 9 (5) (a), the HFB’s Secretary General suggests implementation would be an attack on religious freedom; “it is not right for the UK Government to take a position on the rites, beliefs or practices of a particular religion”. Not only is this factually inaccurate, it is also out of step with the views of 21st Century Britain. Further details from the YouGov poll indicate that less than a quarter of people believe caste discrimination to be a religious issue; compared to the 46% who believe it is a form of apartheid, and over 50% who understand it to be a global human rights issue that stems from a problem with traditional mindsets. Traditional minds such as that of the Hindu Forum of Britain’s Secretary General – an orthodox Brahmin who ostensibly supports equality among the Indian diaspora. In order to have this primitive and discriminatory practice abolished under our legislation, we need to continue to raise awareness of the issue on our own doorstep. The responsibility to outlaw caste discrimination lies with the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who has the Ministerial power to trigger the relevant clause, thus providing hundreds of thousands of Dalits here in the UK with recourse to justice. But, the Home Secretary along with the rest of the government continues to ignore the widespread discrimination exemplified with both statistical data and anecdotal evidence. The continuation of the Begraj employment tribunal in October may help to push the issue of caste discrimination into mainstream media and potentially create a wider sense of indignation amongst Britons. Victims of this hidden apartheid like the Begraj’s need protection in the eyes of the law. One victim of caste discrimination is one victim too many.  ——END—–      

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Jun 01 2012

UN increasingly concerned about caste

by admin in News

Press Release (May 31, 2012). Following yesterday’s release of the reports on the UN human rights reviews of India and the UK, it is evident that UN member states are increasingly concerned about caste discrimination, affecting an estimated 260 million people worldwide. For the first time ever, a recommendation on outlawing caste discrimination in the UK was raised in the Human Rights Council Working Group  at the UK review, while ten recommendations directly relating to caste were made at the review of India, compared to only two in 2008. An additional seven states raised caste as part of their observations, thus leaving the number of states that addressed the issue of caste in the India review at a total of 14. “Caste discrimination has far from been eradicated in neither the ‘world’s biggest democracy’ nor in the diaspora population living in the UK,” said Rikke Nöhrlind, Coordinator of the International Dalit Solidarity Network. “The fact that states are expressing increasing concern over caste and the situation of Dalits in UN reviews, reflects that the situation on the ground in caste-affected countries is not showing significant signs of improvement, and that access to basic human rights and justice continues to be severely impaired for hundreds of millions of citizens,” said Carl Soderbergh, Director of Policy and Communications at Minority Rights Group International. Despite the many concerns expressed on this issue, the UK and Indian Government neglected to respond adequately in the interactive dialogue to the recommendations of concerned UN Member States and postponed comment on the recommendations until the formal adoption in the Human Rights Council session in September. Caste-related recommendations were made in the two reviews by a cross-regional group of states, including Thailand, Japan, Ghana, Czech Republic, Nicaragua, Germany, Norway, USA, and the Holy See. In addition, Chile, Canada, Luxembourg, Hungary, Denmark, and Slovenia asked questions or made observations related to caste in the India review. Accepting the recommendations and setting up time-bound plans for their implementation would be a first, pertinent step by the Government of India in addressing the biggest and most pervasive human rights issue in the country. Not only member states, but also UN human rights treaty bodies and Special Procedures have over the last decade raised their concerns on the continued and deeply vested discriminatory practices and gross human rights violations against Dalits in India. Human rights defenders are now eagerly anticipating a renewed commitment and constructive developments in the policies and practices of both countries in relation to caste, and will continue to monitor developments closely. “In a country that has a tradition of discrimination, we demand that India has clear anti-discrimination campaigns and laws, and that these laws are actively implemented to make a difference on the ground,” said Paul Divakar of the National Campaign on Human Rights (NCDHR) at a side-event following the review. “The UPR is one step towards access to justice in India, but a strong campaign is needed to address the discriminatory mindsets that continue to permeate our culture,” said Asha Kowtal of NCDHR. Ms. Kowtal also expressed concerns that the specific problems related to Dalit women due to the intersectionality of gender and caste discrimination were not properly addressed. We urge the two governments to accept all the recommendations made, and to work constructively with civil society in the next four-year UPR cycle to ensure their implementation and follow-up at the national level. Following the UPR reviews, NCDHR and the Dalit Solidarity Network – UK each issued press releases with their reactions to the immediate outcome. IDSN is also compiling documents analyzing the outcome of both reviews, including all the specific recommendations on each country. This press release is issued jointly by: International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), Minority Rights Group International (MRG), International Movement Against all forms of Racism and Discrimination (IMADR), National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights – India (NCDHR) and the Dalit Solidarity Network – UK (DSN-UK) More information: Press Release from NCDHR with immediate reactions to the India UPR outcome >> Press Release from DSN-UK with immediate reactions to the UK UPR outcome >>  Article on the outcome of the UPR of India >> Article on the outcome of the UPR of the UK >> UPR India 2012: Briefing note with key recommendations and question – Caste discrimination in India >> UPR India submission – Coalition report by National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights >> UPR UK 2012: Briefing note with key recommendations and question >> DSN-UK and IDSN joint UPR submission on caste-based discrimination in the UK >> Follow the twitter news about the UPRs on @idsnupdates >> Media contacts: Mr. Carl Soderbergh, Director of Policy and Communications, Minority Rights Group International, carl.soderbergh@mrgmail.org, Tel. +44 (0)20 7422 4200 Ms. Rikke Nöhrlind, Coordinator, International Dalit Solidarity Network, rn@idsn.org, Tel. +45 60 43 34 32 Mr. Paul Divakar, General Secretary, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, pauldivakar@ncdhr.org.in, Tel. +91 99100 46813 Ms. Meena Varma, Director, Dalit Solidarity Network – UK, meena.v@dsnuk.org, Tel. +44 (0) 7966 081558

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May 30 2012

Caste included in the adopted report on the UK UPR review

by admin in News

The report on the UN human rights review of the UK was adopted today. A significant recommendation on caste discrimination has been included in the final report. This will provide the basis for monitoring and reporting on the UK’s efforts to amend its legislation to include caste and promote a national strategy to eliminate caste discrimination in the next four years. (News from IDSN) The UPR report from the review of the UK on 24 May has now been adopted, and includes one strong recommendation on caste-discrimination made by Nicaragua, who expressed concern at reports of caste based discrimination in the UK. The recommendation reads that the UK should, “Put in practice a national strategy to eliminate discrimination against caste, through the immediate adoption of the Equality Law of 2010 that prohibits such discrimination, in conformity with its international human rights obligations, including CERD’s General Recommendation 29 and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism (Nicaragua)”

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May 25 2012

UK caste battle taken to the UN

by admin in News

(Press Release, Geneva, 25 May 2012) As the UK’s first ever caste discrimination case is pending in court, the UK is given a strong recommendation to immediately adopt legislation outlawing caste discrimination, at the UN human rights review of the UK. Caste discrimination occurring in the South Asian diaspora in the UK, affecting the rights of more than 250,000 lower caste citizens also known as Dalits, has been a well kept secret on the international arena. But at the UN Universal Periodic Review of the human rights situation in the UK on 24 May, several states voiced concerns about the UK Equality Act and anti-discrimination legislation. The UK was specifically recommended to ”… develop a national strategy to eliminate caste discrimination, including the immediate adoption of the clause in the Equality Act of 2010 that prohibits caste discrimination, in accordance with its international human rights obligations.” Vijay Begraj, who has launched a case at the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal, discrimination, victimisation and harassment, due to his caste, was present at the UN review. Mr. Begraj and his wife were seriously harassed and Vijay was dismissed by the firm, because they had married across caste divides. Following the review, a statement was read out on behalf of Mr. Begraj commenting, ”I am extremely distressed and traumatised by the painful, humiliating and violent events that I have been subjected to because of my inter caste relationship and marriage. I welcome the involvement of the member states of the United Nations to take steps exploring this issue and provide long awaited relief to victims like my wife and I and provide clarity in the legislation.” Mr. Begraj’s case is the first of its kind but is unfortunately not a unique occurrence. In 2010 a UK Government commissioned report found that caste discrimination in the UK was found to have extensive personal consequences including reduced career prospects, lower earnings, detrimental effects on education, social isolation, reduced access to social provisions, depression, anger, and loss of self-esteem. Human rights activists and organisations in the UK, as well as the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits, have been fighting a battle to outlaw caste discrimination for years. They are calling for action to be taken by the Government without further delay. At the UN review, the UK delegation pledged to respond to all issues raised in writing. ”Caste discrimination must be outlawed in the UK,” said Meena Varma of the Dalit Solidarity Network – UK (DSN-UK), also present at the review,  ”we are looking forward to immediate action being taken by the Government in response to the UN concerns and concerns of hundreds of thousands of UK citizens affected by this type of discrimination, from which there is currently no proper method of redress.” Jeremy Corbyn, UK MP and chair of DSN-UK, spoke at the UN side-event held to follow up to the UK review, “As a result of campaigning we achieved a breakthrough in 2010 when Parliament amended the Equality Act to outlaw caste discrimination, pending Government commissioned research. We now have the report with the evidence and the UK Government must act immediately to adopt the caste discrimination clause, and deliver proper access to justice for victims.” Contact: Meena Varma, Director, Dalit Solidarity Network – UK, Telephone +44 (0) 7966081558 • Email meenav@dsnuk.org  • web: www.dsnuk.org More information: Recommendation made by the State of Nicaragua at the UN review >> Article on the results of the Government commissioned report on caste discrimination in the UK >> Article on the case of Vijay Begraj >> UPR UK 2012: Briefing note with key recommendations and question – Caste discrimination in the UK >> DSN-UK and IDSN joint UPR submission on caste-based discrimination in the UK >>

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May 18 2012

UPR-Reviews of the UK and India: Time to act on caste discrimination

by admin in News

When India and the UK come up for review by the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 24 May, IDSN and DSN-UK urges all UN member states to seize this important opportunity to address concerns about caste discrimination based on recommendations by civil society and UN human rights bodies. Ahead of the reviews, IDSN has launched an Appeal to UN Member States, Special Procedures, and UN Agencies to Take Action to Eliminate Caste Discrimination Now and has issued a joint press release with Human Rights Watch, specifically on the UPR of India. “United Nations member states should call for effective implementation of laws and policies to address caste-related human rights violations in India,” says Julie de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch in the press release. “Numerous UN human rights bodies and civil society groups are demanding that the Indian government move from promises to action to improve the lives of people who have long endured horrific discrimination … It would be a great injustice to over 160 million Dalits in India if the UN review of India’s human rights record does not directly and comprehensively address serious concerns for the on-going human rights violations against them.” IDSN has issued a number of recommendations to be raised at the reviews of both India and the United Kingdom. Although less known, caste discrimination within the South Asian diaspora in the UK is a problem affecting at least 250.000 Dalits. These aspects are also reflected in the stakeholders’ reports compiled by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In the review of the United Kingdom, IDSN recommends that the UK Government immediately adopts the amendment to prohibit caste discrimination in the Equality Act 2010 and puts into action a national strategy to eliminate caste discrimination. In the review of India, Human Rights Watch and IDSN urge member states to recommend the Government to take effective measures to protect the rights of Dalits, address widespread impunity for crimes committed against them, and lack of access to justice and basic services. IDSN has been part of preparing briefing notes and UPR submissions concerning the situation of Dalits in the two countries together with its members. The briefing notes include key recommendations and questions for States to raise in the interactive dialogues on 24 May. The two reviews present a major opportunity to examine and hold the governments accountable to their human rights obligations on the aspect of caste discrimination. IDSN therefore appeals to all States to raise concerns about caste-based violations and recommend the sharing of good practices to eliminate caste discrimination in the two country reviews. In conclusion of the UPRs, IDSN organizes an Information Meeting recapping the outcomes of the reviews and reflecting on the follow-up action at the national and international level. Delegations, the press, and NGOs are welcome to this side event, which will be held in Geneva on 25 May at 2-3 pm – at the Palais des Nations, Geneva. Share this news on Facebook >> Briefing notes and UPR Submissions: Caste discrimination in the UK – UPR review 24 May: UPR UK 2012: Briefing note with key recommendations and question – Caste discrimination in the UK DSN-UK and IDSN joint UPR submission on caste-based discrimination in the UK Caste discrimination in India – UPR review 24 May: UPR India 2012: Briefing note with key recommendations and question – Caste discrimination in India UPR submission – Coalition report by National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights You can find more information about the UPR mechanism, incl. links here >>   

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