Author Archives: Danni

Caste discrimination continues its journey – now within the Australian diaspora

11th February 2021

It was great news to hear that Australia, back in 2018, passed a motion to urge the government to take action on fighting caste-based discrimination. It requested that, amongst more international aims, the government considered interventions in inclusive recruitment practice and management practice in all business partners.

ABC National Radio recently broadcast a programme about caste-based discrimination amongst the South Asian diaspora in Australia. Disturbingly, there were many echoes of the forms that caste-based discrimination manifests here in the UK. As academic and filmmaker Vikrant Kishore says, ‘caste goes where South Asians go… Australia is no exception’. And while some South Asians in Australia take great pride in their ‘dominant’ caste – such as personalising their car license plates – others find the obsession with finding out people’s surnames (and thus their caste) deeply uncomfortable.

There are, of course, the typical stories that we’ve come to recognise throughout the diaspora, such as being evicted from rental apartments after their South Asian landlord found out the occupant was a Dalit, or refusing to let Dalits enter their house or eat food that they have touched. And much as with the dating app in the UK, an Australian dating app called Dil Mil allows filters to match within ‘dominant’ castes but has no options for ‘lower’ caste groups. Even in the big cities, casteist slurs can be heard.

Perhaps one of the saddest stories is that of a man from Cairns whose father-in-law passed away. They were unable to find a priest to conduct the last rites, and certainly not one that would enter the house. In the end they found someone from Adelaide who gave directions over the phone as to how to perform the ritual. Even in death, casteism shows a disturbing lack of humanity.

Yes, this was a damning report on the situation in Australia, but what should give us hope was that the documentary maker herself came from an upper middle-class Asian background and had come to the realisation that her privileged position had made her blind to the casteism that surrounded her.

Recently we at DSN-UK have been approached by and are talking to others in the UK, previously caste-blind, now making strides both to educate themselves and raise awareness. We look forward to the day when rather than denying that caste-based discrimination exists, ‘dominant’ castes accept that they have been lucky enough to avoid the suffering that Dalits have endured, accept their role in its persistence and start working towards its abolishment.

The Hindu American Foundation file against the County of Santa Clara in the Cisco case

2nd February 2021

There are some stark parallels with the actions of the Hindu American Foundation in the US and those of the Hindu lobby here in the UK, who argue that inclusion of caste as a discriminatory factor in the Equality Act 2010 is a ‘hate crime’ against Hindus!

So to hear that the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) has filed to intervene in the case is deeply disturbing and indicates a lack of willingness to even discuss that caste-based discrimination exists. In amongst the wording of the case brought against Cisco, the State argues that caste is ‘a strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy’. This would contravene the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of all Hindu Americans according to HAF’s Executive, Suhag Shukla, by attempting to define Hindu religious doctrine. The HAF has openly stated that they are anti-casteism, but their actions undermine the importance of the Cisco case by attempting to deflect the issue on to something else.

For those who are human rights activists, the decision by the State of California to sue tech giant Cisco for allowing caste-based discrimination to occur unchecked was a major breakthrough. It felt like there was finally some sign of responsibility taken by a government to tackle the issues of casteism imported by the South Asian diaspora, and that such behaviour would no longer go unnoticed. Most importantly of all, it was widely covered by a number of news outlets and raised awareness of the insidious nature of caste-based discrimination, and the ‘real life’ effects on individuals.

In effect, the HAF is accusing California of Hinduphobia. This, sadly, is a claim that activists have come up against repeatedly in the UK. During the Public Consultation on Caste-based Discrimination in the UK, the Hindu Forum repeatedly accused pro-legislation activists of trying to put blame on all Hindus and create a schism. It was erroneously claimed that DSN-UK was a Christian organisation (despite the fact that our Director was up for an award for Secularist of the Year) and that the concept of caste played no role in Hindu teachings. It is a moot point as to where casteism originated: the fact is that it is still taking place across the world, and our work is to end it, regardless of whether it affects or is perpetrated by Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs or Christians – or indeed those of no faith.

It is nigh on impossible to have an open discussion about casteism today – those who are anti-legislation are immediately on the defensive as soon as the subject is mentioned. The fact of the matter is that, like any discrimination, it is perpetrated by individuals; what is unacceptable is that certain institutions (whether cultural or religious) allow it to happen and then go on to paint the perpetrators as victims. Until both sides join forces to eliminate it as a cultural norm or legislation provides adequate protection for victims, progress will continue to be slow.

The Impact of the UK’s Decision to reduce Foreign Aid

12th January 2021

Much has been made recently of the UK government’s decision to reduce the Foreign Aid budget to 0.5% of gross national income from its usual level of 0.7%. While times are indeed hard due to the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic (and potentially due to get harder as a result of Brexit), this holds for nearly every country in the world at the moment. However, hardship for the UK is on a different level than hardship for countries in the developing world. We are fortunate enough to live in a place where we are both able and willing to fund our Public Borrowing. Other governments are not as well set up or lack the political desire to support those most in need.

According to the World Economic Forum, under the Principled Aid Index, the UK is the second most generous nation from the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee. So what impact will this 0.2% reduction have on tackling caste-based discrimination? While it’s difficult to quantify, we can put it in perspective. The top recipient of Foreign Aid from the UK in 2019 was Pakistan, while Bangladesh lay in 6th position and India in 17th – countries where the Dalit community requires the most help.  Consequently, there is no doubt that a drop in foreign aid will mean that life will get most difficult for those most in need.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (a member of the APPG for Dalits), recently asked what assessment the government made of reports that minorities are being persecuted in India, which has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the marginalisation of the Dalit community. In response, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said that the human rights situation is continually assessed, and that in 2016-18 they funded a project in Uttar Pradesh empowering 400 Dalit human rights defenders to challenge discrimination and violence against Dalit women. It is devastating to think that projects such as these risk being cancelled because of the cut in foreign aid funding.

Previously we were among the few countries that have hit the UN’s target of 0.7%, but we are also in an exceptionally fortunate position: we have unemployment benefits for those laid off, as most workers are registered and on contracts of one sort or another, and we have a number of incredible charities that provide shelter, food banks and clothing for those most in need. Of course, it’s not perfect, but in the UK you rarely hear of people starving to death, dying because of poor sanitation or being denied access to help just because of their caste. The same cannot be said of those countries where caste-based discrimination occurs – they are the most vulnerable at the best of times, and suffer the most at the worst of times. One can only hope that the government’s reduction in Foreign Aid will be very, very temporary.

News from DSN-UK’s 2020 AGM

24th November 2020

This year’s Annual General Meeting, held on 5th November, was a bittersweet event. While DSN-UK has had lots to celebrate, it was also time to say goodbye to two significant people in the organisation.

Corinne Lennox, our Chair, was at the helm and was delighted to welcome such a large number of attendees from across the globe for our first Virtual AGM. The Annual Report & Accounts were presented by Kate Solemeyina, DSN-UK Treasurer and she was pleased to announce that for the year ending March 2020, our accounts are looking healthy, and despite the pressures that the pandemic and lockdown have caused, we have good reserves to see us through the next few months – though future funding, as always, remains a priority.

We welcomed a new trustee, voted in at this meeting. Bala Gnanapragasam has been a Labour councillor for the London borough of Lewisham, and served on a number of charitable bodies, including Change Alliance (India), Age Exchange and Christian Aid. We welcome his skills to the Board and look forward to working with him.

Meena Varma took us through the Annual Review and the highlights and challenges over the last year, and Danni Kleinaityte presented our newest campaign on ‘Everyday Casteism’.

The highlight of the event was two incredible presentations. The first came from Andrés Huesos of WaterAid discussing the ongoing issues of sanitation workers, particularly in the light of the Covid-19 crisis, and what steps need to be taken in order to change the current situation. This was followed by Bezwada Wilson from Safai Karmachari Andolan, reflecting on the 10 years since the DSN-UK campaign ‘Foul Play – End Manual Scavenging’ and the impact in India. Both presentations are available here.

On a sadder note, David Haslam has stepped down from the Board after twenty years’ service to DSN-UK. A founding member of the charity, many of the AGM’s attendees gave testament to what an inspiring figure he has been over the years, and the energy and effort he has put into supporting the cause of ending caste-based discrimination.

The second member of the team leaving us is Meena Varma, our Director, who has seen the charity through significant changes. Danni prepared a wonderful tribute in the form of a video to celebrate the highlights of Meena’s time with us, and honorary chair Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech in which he praised both her dedication and determination to change things. Several other members also added their thanks to her, and we wish her the best in her role as Executive Director at the International Dalit Solidarity Network.

Our thanks go out to the Board, our special guests and all the attendees for a highly successful event.

Director of DSN-UK to step down to lead global network

26th October 2020

Dalit Solidarity Network UK are sad to announce the departure of our Director, Meena Varma, who has been at the helm of our organisation for over 13 years. As some of you will know, she has been working full-time for both DSN-UK and our sister organisation, the International Dalit Solidarity Network, for the last few years, dedicating a huge amount of her time to keeping both charities running effectively. She has now decided that it is time to focus her efforts on IDSN and ensure that the issues of caste-based discrimination are kept on the agenda on the global stage. Under her directorship she has played a significant role in trying to implement legislative change to the Equality Act 2010, assisted in setting up the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits, and run a number of incredibly successful campaigns that have raised awareness throughout the UK. Her expertise has been called upon by numerous parliamentarians, journalists and activists, and her wealth of knowledge, unflagging energy and absolute passion for justice will be sorely missed. We wish her the very best of luck for the future.

Our Chair, Dr Corinne Lennox, has written a note about Meena and her contributions, which you will find below.

Launch of DSN-UK Report Everyday Casteism campaign

19th October 2020

Today DSN-UK is launching our ‘Report Everyday Casteism’ campaign to collect evidence of caste-based discrimination and casteist hate speech in the UK experienced by non-dominant caste people. Our dedicated webpage has a succinct reporting form with an option to remain anonymous. Everyone who has faced casteist behaviour in the UK is encouraged to submit incidents that might be serious or negligible, very offensive or so minor and normalised that you do not even give it much thought or feel the need to protest.

DSN-UK together with other like-minded organisations in the UK campaigned to include caste in the Equality Act 2010. However, after the public consultation on caste, the UK government announced its decision to repeal the duty in the Equality Act 2010 to make caste an explicit aspect of race discrimination. Since then, MP Bob Blackman has been pushing to ensure this is done as soon as possible.

We have often faced the challenge of providing enough concrete evidence on how widespread the issue of caste-based discrimination is in the UK. At the last DSN-UK Annual General Meeting suggestions were made of looking at the possibility of collecting everyday casteist incidents that may not reach courts or mass media attention. A catalogue of reported casteist incidents will strengthen our campaign by allowing us to illustrate how casteist behaviour manifests in the UK and what type of legislative or policy protections are needed to protect the victims and prevent such incidents in the future.

Report Everyday Casteism in the UK now and encourage others to do the same.

Anti-Legislation Lobby want ‘caste’ to be replaced with ‘class’

30th April 2019

Our Director, Meena Varma, appeared on Radio 4’s Sunday programme, to discuss the Guidance Document on Caste Discrimination, which is shortly due to be published by the Government. At present both sides are unhappy with what has been produced. Satish Sharma of the National Council of Hindu Temples has argued that the use of ‘caste’ brings up an association with Hindus and implies that the religion is discriminatory. Instead, they would like to see the word ‘class’ put in its place – however, there is a vast difference between the two terms. In response, Meena stated that there is no definition of ‘caste’ in the current Guidance, and while the pro-Legislation groups continue to lobby for caste based discrimination to be enshrined in law, it is essential that the final document clearly explains to both service users and victims what their rights are. You can find the article at, starting around 19 minutes 22 seconds.

UK Government will repeal caste law

13th August 2018

The Government Equalities Office have finally published the results of the six-month public consultation on Caste in Great Britain and Equality Law, determining whether ‘caste’ should be included in the Equality Act 2010.

The consultation, launched in March 2017 and finished in September 2017, has at last been announced, one day before the beginning of Parliament’s Summer Recess, leaving little opportunity for pro-legislators to respond in a timely manner. Consisting of 13 questions, the crux of the matter was to find out whether caste discrimination should be included in Statue Law or remain under Case Law.

Penny Mordaunt, the Secretary for Women and Equalities, stated in parliament yesterday that “The Government’s primary concern is to ensure that legal protection against caste discrimination is sufficient, appropriate and proportionate.” Consequently, any future instances of caste discrimination will have to rely on case law. Her full response can be found at

After over 16,000 responses – well above the average – tragically, the government have concluded that ‘caste’ is already covered under ‘ethnic origins’ and that including the term in legislation is both unnecessary and divisive. In all, 8,513 respondents favoured relying on case law, 2,885 were in favour of legislation and 3,588 rejected both options; 1,113 respondents didn’t know or were not sure which option would be most appropriate. While pro-legislation campaigners have emphasised that this is not an issue of religious persecution, the Hindu and Sikh lobbies have seen it as just that. And despite the government’s reassurance that the analysis would be qualitative rather than quantitative, it appears that certain voices have been louder than others.

The consultation analysis seems to doubt whether caste discrimination exists in Great Britain, but this in itself creates a ‘Catch-22’: how are victims meant to report this type of discrimination if the crime is not recognised? The role of the government should be prophylactic, and clearly condemn caste discrimination in all its form via legislation, rather than waiting to see if any victims are brave enough to endure a court system that at present has only one piece of case law to reference.

Meena Varma, Director of DSN-UK, has expressed her extreme disappointment over the result: “It seems that the government has decided that the issue is not significant enough to ensure legal protection. The victims of this form of discrimination will continue to suffer, as the government refuses to acknowledge that the problem exists. Emerging case law cannot provide enough protection for those subjected to caste discrimination. It usually takes years and a mountain of cases before case law stands any chance being upheld in court. The tragedy in all of this is that it will continue to be a hidden problem as those seeking help will believe that there is scant legal recourse for them in Great Britain.”

For full details of the Government Consultation Response and Analysis, go to

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism visit to the UK

23rd May 2018

The Special Rapporteur (SR) on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, on Friday, 11 May 2018, concluded her official visit to the UK and issued her end of mission statement. During the visit the Special Rapporteur met with the UK government and Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales representatives. Ms Achiume also met with civil society in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast.

Dalit Solidarity Network UK made a submission to the SR prior to her visit to raise the issue of caste-based discrimination and attended meetings in London to further discuss the issues of lack of protection against caste-based discrimination in the UK. The SR took a note of it and included a paragraph in her end of visit statement:

‘In my consultations, it emerged clearly that most stakeholders largely view the formal UK legal framework governing equality and hate crimes positively. There are some exceptional concerns however, including: the decision by the UK Government not to bring into effect the provisions in the Equality Act 2010 regarding socio-economic inequalities and intersectional discrimination; and concerns regarding the legal status of caste-based discrimination.’

The Special Rapporteur will present her full report on the country visit to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2019. Ms Achiume will continue to accept submissions on the situation in the UK until November 2018.

In the meantime, we continue to wait to hear back from the government on the outcome of the Caste in Great Britain and equality law: a public consultation.

‘Dalit theology on caste Discrimination’ event in London

21st May 2018

On 25 April 2018, DSN-UK in collaboration with Amos Trust, Churches Dalit Support Network and with the support of the Methodist Church held an event in London on “Dalit theology on caste Discrimination”. Among the special guests was DSN-UK patron Revd Dr Vincent Manoharan from Tamil Nadu in India. As a keynote speaker Vincent spoke passionately about discrimination faced by Dalits in India. He outlined that Dalits face social, economic and political discrimination and violence.

A study undertaken in 2004 in the state of Andhra Pradesh, which status still continues, revealed that more than 140 forms of untouchability practices exist against Dalits, right from the remote village to metropolitan cities.”

Vincent highlighted that Dalits face various forms of atrocities, including:

killing, stripping naked/molesting/raping of Dalit women/pushing them as jognis-the temple prostitutes, forcing Dalits to eat / drink inedible or obnoxious substance like human excreta, maiming of limbs, destructions of homes and threatened to vote or not to vote to a particular candidate during elections”.

Dalits also continue to face deprivation as majority of them are poor, struggling to access basic goods and services such as land, education, employment, food, health, drinking water etc. Moreover, despite the reservations, policies and programmes directed at improving the situation of Dalits, their voices remain unheard and underrepresented in India’s politics.

Vincent also observed that caste-based discrimination against Christian Dalits exists with the Church in India. He noted that Dalits face discrimination within the hierarchy of the Church as well as in the Church based institutions. He ended his presentation by looking at the ways to end caste-based discrimination within the Church through practical theology.

Other two speakers were Dr Elizabeth Joy from the Churches Dalit support Network and Rev Dr Jacob Devadason.

The event in London was followed by two other events, in Birmingham and Manchester, where Vincent spoke on the same topic.

We are very thankful to the Amost Trust for their assistance in organising the events and Methodist Church for their support, without which these events would not have happened.