London: Caste discrimination is to be outlawed in the UK, as the government on Tuesday took a U-turn after its policy was rejected by the House of Lords for a second time, bringing much cheer to about 400,000 Dailts in the country.
Amendments tabled by Business Secretary Vince Cable in the House of Commons today state that the Equality Act will "provide for caste to be an aspect of race".
This means that the Government has now conceded on the principle and has tabled an amendment which requires the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations to include Caste as an aspect of Race (under Section 9(5) of the Equality Act) within two months of enactment of the Enterprise Bill.
In a major parliamentary stand-off, The House of Lords has voted twice for legal protection to be given to the estimated 400,000 Dailts - so-called untouchables - who live in the UK.
Commons MPs had last month overturned the first Lords vote, sparking a tussle between the two Houses. But after the peers again backed the proposals by 181 to 168 votes yesterday, forcing the government to re-think.
"This is a major victory for us. Our planned demonstration in Parliament Square today to protest against the government`s stand on the issue has now turned into a celebration," said Caste Watch UK general-secretary Davinder Prasad, who has been spearheading a campaign in favour of caste-based discrimination to be included in the UK`s equality laws.
"Too many British citizens have suffered caste-based discrimination and this legislation now offers hope to the tens of thousands of British Asians whose lives are blighted by such prejudice. This is a victory for the Lords and their emphasis on protecting Human Rights," added Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society.
The government had commissioned the National Institute of Economic and Social (NIESR) to carry out research on the issue, resulting in a report in December 2010 entitled `Caste discrimination and harassment in Great Britain`.
It had pegged Britain`s Dalit or lower caste community between 50,000 and 200,000 and found that caste awareness was largely focused among people with roots in the Indian sub-continent.
However, the Conservative-led coalition had rejected proposals to legislate on the matter and recently announced a new education programme titled `Talk For A Change` as a more "appropriate or effective way" to tackle this "complex and sensitive issue".
The issue also exposed a divide among Hindu groups based in the UK, with the Alliance of Hindu Organisations UK (AHO) calling for a boycott of any such legislation as it would label the entire Hindu community as being "institutionally discriminatory".
"The issue of the caste system is one that the Hindu community would very much like to move beyond. We strongly believe that modern Hindus do not care about what caste someone came from. This legislation would take us back to the past where we do not want to go," said AHO spokesperson Arjan Vakaria.
But many MPs had backed the proposals from the beginning. "This is a straightforward issue, caste discrimination in the work place is wrong and the people who suffer from it deserve legal protection. That`s it. Beginning and end," said Conservative MP Richard Fuller.
The government has also asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to further examine the nature of caste prejudice and harassment in the UK, the findings of which are to be tabled later this year.