The speakers at the event included Diya Sen Gupta, Satpal Muman, Santosh Dass, Clive Baldwin, Rania El Rajji, Aidan McQuade and Jin Kalkat.
The first part of the event overviewed the UK scene in relation to Dalits’ situation and anti-caste discrimination legislation. The event started with Meena Varma reading Jeremy Corbyn’s[/ezcol_1half_end]
message in which he stated that he is sad to step down from the APPG for Dalits Chair’s role but happy to pass it on to Yasmin Qureshi, and will continue supporting Dalits’ campaign.
Diya Sen Gupta gave an overview of anti-caste discrimination legislation progress and British case law. She highlighted that Equality Act 2010 prohibits direct and indirect discrimination and harassment. 2013 amendment added a statutory duty to include caste under race, yet no timeline was set. In 2014 the Equality and Human Rights Commission carried a public consultation, yet no publication of the consultation was made.
Mr. Justice Langstaff, the judge in Tirkey v Chandok caste was clear that his ‘focus has been on the appeal in this particular case, in its particular circumstances <..> not to resolve academic disputes, and establish more general propositions, of no direct relevance to the case in hand’. Therefore, the case is not a precedent for other caste-based discrimination cases, and as this type of process is expensive and discouraging, anti-caste discrimination legislation is very much needed. On the future of the legislation Ms Gupta added that government has no immediate plans to implement the legislation and it may not be exercised before April 2018, when the Sunset clause could come into play and the law may be repealed due to anti-legislation lobbying.
Kate Green MP stated that the reluctance to adopt the anti-caste discrimination legislation is politically driven and influenced by allies outside the UK. HMG has not honoured the timetable it introduced in 2013 despite efforts from Peers and MPs and responses to the PQs asked: How to respond to this ‘aggressive inertia’?
She suggested to: (1) point out to the government its disregard of this as a human rights issue, thus weakening the government’s reputation; (2) making it very clear to ordinary families affected by caste what it would mean for them and emphasising that their culture and family life would not be affected; and (3) advance the argument for anti-caste based discrimination legislation by going back to the moral principle (statement) that this form of discrimination is not acceptable and statute is extremely helpful to secure human rights and protect people against discrimination. Human rights should not be subordinate to short term political gain. She suggested that the campaign should focus on specific strategies and become louder.
A statement from the audience (Keith Porteous Wood) highlighted that under the last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) the UN recommendations included words like “obligation” in relation to the anti-caste discrimination legislation and the UK representatives agreed to it. Hence now within the UN the UK looks bad.
Satpal Muman said he was representing the community’s perspective and expressed his disappointment with the lack of HMG’s interest and stated he is losing his confidence in the government. He ensured that he continues to campaign and write to government officials but sees no light at the end of the tunnel. In his view the opposition to caste legislation undermines community cohesion and concluded by saying that there should be no room for caste-based discrimination in this country where we have “better rights”.
Santosh Dass stated that Indians coming to the UK bring their culture and practices with them hence there is a need for legal protection against caste-based discrimination to protect Dalits in the UK.
Baroness Flather suggested that the issue is out of people’s sight and everyone should speak to their MPs and create Dalit specific organisations. She has recirculated the EHRC reports which do have very specific pro-legislation recommendations.
We need to marshal friends in both Houses – Hindu organisations have been well organised and mobilised – now is the time to agitate. Look at the Sikh Gurudwaras that have been built on caste lines.
Jin Kalkat spoke about his journey and caste discrimination he experienced in the UK. As a result of caste-based discrimination he described feeling upset, hurt and less than a human, no longer safe. He also said he started feeling as an outsider and felt this might lead to radicalisation of an individual. He concluded by asking a question: if there is no respect for human rights in the UK how can we promote it elsewhere?
The second part of the event looked at caste discrimination globally.
Clive Baldwin highlighted that CERD is an international law prohibiting discrimination and recently celebrated its 50 years anniversary. He stated that India has good laws in place, including prohibition of manual scavenging, yet this inhumane practice still exists. Nepal has also made an extreme transition over the past decade, yet there is a political dismissal of discrimination. He concluded that whilst there is good evidence of international law being translated into domestic laws an issue of implementation remains.
Rania El Rajji spoke about caste discrimination in Yemen and the situation of Muhamasheen (“marginalised ones”) people, also known as Al Akhdam, who are at the bottom of the caste system. She highlighted that in March 2015 when the conflict erupted in Yemen, the Muhamasheen ended up at the front of the conflict; yet with very restricted access to humanitarian assistance. She concluded that although normally war brings communities together, the MRG report “Even war discriminates” highlights that Muhamasheen in Yemen are by-passed and discriminated against during the conflict in accessing even the basic goods.
Aidan McQuade started by saying that a failure to recognise caste in the UK is a sign of weak leadership. He highlighted that those enslaved come from discriminated groups. As Ambedkar pointed out, caste restricts opportunities, and instead offers division of labour and economic injustice. Aidan reiterated that law can counteract prejudice. He finished by saying that for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights are no longer a priority but trade deals are, which leaves very little incentive for other states, like Nepal or India, to change. To address human rights violations and discrimination politicians have to be prepared to be unpopular.
The audience was invited to suggest steps to take in moving forward. Those included submitting shadow reports for the UK review in August 2016 under the CERD, using the EHRC’s reports as a reference, educating people on caste-based discrimination and arranging a follow up APPG meeting.
As a result of this meeting Lord Harries of Pentregarth later proposed a debate on caste-based discrimination at the House of Lords, which took place on the 11th of July 2016.