On 2 September the Government announced that it is to undertake a full public consultation on the issue of caste and the Equality Act 2010. A key aim of the consultation will be to obtain the views of the public on whether or not additional measures are needed to ensure that victims of caste discrimination have appropriate legal protection and effective remedies under the Act. The consultation will run for 12 weeks from its commencement. [With thanks to Paul de Mello, Jr.]
In 2015 we published a timeline of the development of the issue, beginning with the Government Equality Office Research Findings, 2010/8: Caste Discrimination and Harassment in Great Britain and including the commitment made by Government during consideration of Lords Amendments to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. During that debate, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Jo Swinson, said this:
“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.” [HC Deb 23 Apr 2013 c 789]
The outcome was s 97 (Equality Act 2010: caste as an aspect of race).
In the recent Lords debate on caste-based discrimination [HL Deb 11 July 2016 c 81], Lord Deben put the matter very bluntly:
“This is the first chance that a new Government have got to stand up and tell this House that they intend to obey the law. The only alternative is to tell this House that they intend to disobey the law. I do not believe that is a proper position for any Government” [c 89].
But the issue is by no means uncontroversial or uncontested. Prakash Shah, for example, has frequently criticised the recent legislation, arguing that the dominant descriptions of the caste system are rooted in a Western Christian experience of India and tell us more about the West than they do about India. In his view, they reflect European experiences of Indian culture and society and the way Europeans tend to rationalise such things much more than they describe the real state of Indian society or its domestic understanding: see, for example, “An ancient system of caste”: How the British law against caste depends on Orientalism.
The Government’s announcement states that before taking any decisions it will carefully consider the responses to the consultation, which will run for 12 weeks from its commencement date. There will be a further announcement in due course.