Caste Discrimination Legislation – Progress?

4 March 2013: Report stage, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill 2012-13, House of Lords voted 256 to 153 in favour of Amendment 73 to clause 57: the insertion of “caste” as a further sub-paragraph (d), after section 9(1)(c) of the Equality Act 2010, thereby making it a protected characteristic under the “race” criterion.

23 April 2013: During the “ping pong” consideration of amendments between the two Houses, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Jo Swinson, stated, [23 Apr 2013 : Column 789]

“We therefore propose amendments in lieu of Lords Amendment 37 that will impose a duty on the Government to exercise the power in the Equality Act 2010 that would make caste an aspect of race for the purposes of the Act. We think that that option, rather than the amendment proposed yesterday in the other place, is the best way forward.”

9 May 2013: In a leaked letter to the Alliance of Hindu Organisations, (AHO),the Minister for Sport, Tourism & Equalities, Helen Grant, (Con. Maidstone and the Weald in Kent) is reported to have stated:

“I made no secret at our meeting – and nor do I now – of my disappointment that it has been necessary for the Government to concede to making an order to include caste as an element of race in the Equality Act 2010.

“We remain concerned that there is insufficient evidence of caste-based discrimination to require specific legislation. We also have concerns that incorporating caste into domestic law – even in the context of anti-discrimination – may send out the wrong signal that caste is somehow becoming a permanent feature of British society.”

29 July 2013: Government sets out programme and timetable for introduction of caste-discrimination legislation.  Its web site states

“Government is committed to eliminating caste-based discrimination and harassment in the UK and plans to carry out a full public consultation on the prospective legislation in early 2014.

The consultation will draw on existing reports, as well as the findings of research on caste and caste discrimination which the Equality and Human Rights Commission will carry out shortly.

The Commission’s research is due to last between 3 to 6 months from summer 2013, and will include discussions with people and groups who are interested in caste discrimination.”

6 November 2013: In advance of her meeting with UK government, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is reported to have urged the UK to implement caste discrimination laws.

13 November 2013: The AHO issued the Press Release Hindu Community Raises Concerns over Government Research on Caste Discrimination. This suggests that the EHRC research appears to be repeating the mistakes of earlier studies:

– It does nothing to address the key issue of the extent of caste discrimination in this country;

– It appears to be proceeding on the basis that the problem is focused on the Hindu population, when the Government’s own research found that only one of 23 documented cases of discrimination took place within that community; and

– There is concern that a majority of the EHRC-appointed research team have previous links to one side of the caste debate and that this may represent a conflict of interests.

15 November 2013: EHRC issues a Press Release Caste Discrimination in which its CEO, Mark Hammond, responds to the concerns raised in the AHO Press Release stating:

– The Commission is aware of the strongly held views on both sides of the debate and welcomes the Alliance of Hindu Organisations’ comments on its Caste in Britain research project. We of course recognise their commitment to eliminating discrimination based on caste.

– In order to ensure all opinions are considered the Commission has designed the project to be transparent and objective. It has held workshop events to ensure all views are heard and considered. We do not approach this task with any preconceptions and our aim is to be objective, authoritative and transparent.

– The research team we appointed was selected on the basis of their proposal not the views of individual researchers, and the project details have been published on the Commission’s website. We are confident they will approach the task impartially and we would expect nothing less.

– What is clear is that caste is an extremely complex area, and relevant case law and empirical research is limited. The Commission is doing this work to fulfil its statutory duty to ensure the law can be applied effectively. We will look at the existing evidence and provide our expert analysis on the extent to which this problem is likely to be addressed, by either legislative or other solutions.”

Further background insights are given in the post of Tony Muman, 43 Temple Row, Government U-turn on caste discrimination not entirely voluntary!.