Historic victory for Dalits
Arun Kumar, Bedford, UK
4th March, 2013 is a momentous day in the history of Dalit movement in the UK when the House of Lords voted overwhelmingly in favour of including caste discrimination in the Equality Act 2010. 256 peers from all parties voted for the amendment and 153 voted against. If this amendment is passed in the House of Commons, it will give the same legal protection as people who face discrimination on the basis of gender, sexuality or race. United Kingdom will be the first country in the Western Hemisphere to give legal protection to the victims of caste discrimination.
Coinciding with the debate in the Parliament, hundreds of people from various organisations representing Ravidassias, Valmikis, Buddhists, Ambedkarites and Christians in the UK marched in front of British Parliament in support of the amendment in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill tabled by Lord Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford and Chairman of All Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits and the Labour Party Equality spokes person in the Lords, Lady Thornton. They demanded the implementation of the findings of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) report published in 2010 commissioned by the Government Equalities Office to determine the extent of caste based discrimination (CBD) in the UK. NIESR found out that there was an ample evidence of CBD and recommended legal protection for the victims of caste prejudice. But the Government was not prepared to include caste in the legislation and opposed change in the law.
Introducing the amendment, Lord Harries, the bishop of Oxford said, “We know in the case of race that nothing has been more effective in reducing racial prejudice than the law. It has had a most powerful educative effect”. He further stated, “Nothing could be more significant and effective in reducing discrimination on the grounds of caste than to have a clear-cut law that discrimination in the public law would not be tolerated”.
The Government was not prepared to include caste in the legislation and opposed change in the law saying it had set up an education programme to tackle caste discrimination. But peers said this was not enough, and the law needed to be changed. The peers voted in favour of the amendment and defeated the government.
Despite the overwhelming majority in favor of this legislation, the government response was not encouraging. On behalf of the government, Baroness Stowell accepted that there was some evidence of caste discrimination but education program was an appropriate way of dealing with the incidents relating to caste. “We do not believe that introducing specific caste-based legislation is the best way to tackle the incidents of caste-related prejudice and discrimination that have been identified – many of which occur in areas not covered by discrimination law, such as in volunteering,” said a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
For a number of years many organisations were campaigning to outlaw caste discrimination. The campaigners have done a marvellous effort to highlight the issue of caste discrimination in the UK and worked hard to lobby at various levels to get the support. They must be congratulated. Dalit Solidarity Network, UK, Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, UK, Federation of Ambedkarite & Buddhist Organisation, UK (FABO, UK), Caste Watch, UK and Voice of Dalits, UK (VODI) are some of the organisations who spearheaded the campaign and achieved a historic success
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