Jeremy Corbyn win may push UK caste bias law

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 23, 2018 Published on August 27, 2015

Fresh impetus Jeremy Corbyn at an event in London (file photo) REUTERS

Labour party leader wants caste included legally as an aspect of ‘race’

A long-running campaign to get Britain to introduce legislation to prevent caste discrimination could gain impetus, should Jeremy Corbyn, the current frontrunner in the leadership campaign for the Labour party, be selected as the party’s head in September.

Corbyn has been a longstanding supporter of the campaign mounted by various anti-caste discrimination groups, and is the chair of trustees of the Dalit Solidarity Network, made up of individuals and organisations concerned about the impact of caste discrimination in the UK.

“I think it would give us fresh impetus,” said Meena Varma, director of DSN.

“He was the first MP who engaged with our campaign…he was the first who listened to us, considered what we said and trusted us,” said Davinder Prasad, general secretary of Caste Watch.

In 2010, when the House of Lords voted to outlaw caste discrimination in the UK by including it as an aspect of “race” just like colour, nationality, and ethnic origin, in the Equality Act of 2010, Corbyn led a parliamentary Early Day Motion to push for the House of Commons to implement legislation. In the event, the motion garnered just 49 supporters.

Powerful message

The legislation would have made Britain the first country to introduce civil legislation under equality and discrimination law. “It would send a very powerful message to India and the rest of the world,” said Varma.

While the campaign had garnered wider support from the Labour party, it is the House of Lords that until now has been responsible for much of the action and debate on the matter, said Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society.

Criticising the government for dragging its heels, activists point to research carried out by the respected National Institute of Economic and Social Research in 2010.

This found evidence of various forms of caste discrimination in the UK, including bullying, trouble getting a job and difficulty in gaining promotion. It concluded that non-legislative approaches are unlikely to be effective in the private sector.

In a recent letter to the British Prime Minister, the NSS urged the government to act on promises it had made, including one to the UNHRC in a mid-term report in 2014, where it said it was committed to making caste discrimination unlawful following a public consultation.

Appalling situations

Corbyn, who has regularly asked questions in Parliament, urged the government in a speech in 2013 to tackle “the appalling” situations people found themselves in.

“I have met many people who are victims of caste discrimination…The arguments being used today—that there is not enough evidence, more needs to be gathered and there has to be consultation—are exactly the same arguments used against the first race relations law in this country: that we cannot legislate away prejudice and discrimination.

“No, we cannot. However, we can offer protection for the victims, we can offer legal redress, we can stop discrimination in the workplace,” he said.

Prasad said he is hopeful that should Corbyn win, even in opposition, would help increase pressure on the government to act.

“He’s a very forceful speaker… he can put the government under pressure…and make them accountable for everything.”

Published on August 27, 2015
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