Dalit Groups Win the Day, Monday 4th March 2013
Outlaw Caste Discrimination in the UK
We want Justice Now!
This was the rallying cry from the 100s of protesters that assembled outside Parliament Square on Monday 4 March to protest against the UK government’s decision NOT to legislate against caste discrimination – despite provisions enabling it to do so in the Equality Act 2010. Our government has continued to fail to provide the necessary legal redress and protection for victims of caste discrimination in the UK.
In its long awaited response to the National Institute for Economic and Social Research report (published 2010), on Friday 1 March 2012 the government released a statement that it would not enforce legislative measures, but instead introduce an educational programme to address caste discrimination in the UK
This, despite the fact that the NIESR report specifically recommended legislation to provide explicit protection, summing up that educational measures were unlikely to work.
So why ignore these recommendations, why ignore the voice of the Dalits who have consistently demanded legal recourse as being the only way to get justice ?.
In the end, Dalit groups won the day as the protest culminated in a House of Lords amendment to legislate against caste discriminating.
Members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits, Lords Harries and Avebury and Baroness Thornton, joined by Lord Deben from the Conservative Party moved an amendment in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to bring caste in to the Act as an aspect of race – thus outlawing it in the UK.
[ All photography : David Bonitto ]
hit the links below to view more pics
The debate began at 4.36pm with a powerful opening statement from Lord Harries – saying that he found the government’s decision to go down the education not legislation route was ‘disappointing and genuinely distressing’ and going on to state that such a programme could be ‘highly counter productive’. Lord Deben was clear “I do not think it a worthy decision’ and he was ‘not convinced by the government’s argument’.
Lord Avebury asked ‘why should caste be treated differently…to any other protected characteristic’?
The government response was not a surprising one. On behalf of the government Baroness Stowell recognised that there is some evidence of caste prejudice and discrimination taking place in the United Kingdom. However the government’s view is ‘this education programme, which will explore all the issues, not just those covered by discrimination legislation, is an appropriate and targeted way of dealing with incidents related to caste’
Baroness Shreela Flather, who is a Hindu of Indian origin quite pertinently asked: ‘Who is going to educate whom? We have put down so many things under education that I should think they could fill a whole blackboard. Without legislation, I do not understand who will give this education and who will be educated.’
The Minister however did go on to state ’The Government are largely in accord with the aims of this amendment. We all want to see an end to caste-based prejudice and discrimination. We are not closing the door to legislation. We have no plans to remove the power from the Act, and we will leave it there in case new evidence emerges…’
We are still wondering how much more evidence there needs to be. Plenty has now been amassed over the past 10 years and documented from the Dalit Solidarity Network UK report in 2006, to Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance in 2009 and the National Institute’s ‘robust’ report in 2010.
The amendment went to a vote at 6.05. And we had a result! 256 peers voted for the amendment – with support from all sides of the House and all parties; 153 voted against. At 103 votes in favour, it was an outstanding and comprehensive victory.
We know that other discrimination legislation did not change hearts and minds overnight. What they did do was to begin to change behaviours. Only when we had a law to protect and made certain discrimination morally and legally wrong did we see a change in attitudes. Lord Deben ended his speech by imploring the government ‘…do not fail the Dalits’.