London: In a "historic" step, British
Parliament has moved closer to amending equality laws to
declare as illegal caste-based discrimination, which is also
prevalent in India, after the House of Lords cleared the
The Equality Bill -- which unites the various strands of
diversity legislation, outlaws age discrimination and requires
businesses to report on the gender pay gap -- will now face
final consideration by the House of Commons prior to receiving
It is expected to become law before the general election
expected in early May.
The House of Commons will consider the amendments
suggested by the House of Lords on April 6.
Amendments made by the House of Lords included a power to
outlaw discrimination on the basis of caste; a ban on asking
for health and disability information prior to making a job
offer; and removing the ban on civil partnership ceremonies
taking place in religious premises.
There has been mounting evidence of the prevalence
of caste-based discrimination among people with origins in the
After refusing to amend the laws for some years on the
ground that there was no evidence of such practice in Britain,
the government has now accepted that discrimination on grounds
of caste may be happening.
Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, said:
"I`m pleased that the Equality Bill has completed its third
reading in the House of Lords. This is a historic piece of
legislation that contains a range of new rights, powers and
obligations to help the drive towards equality, including
tackling the overarching inequality caused by where you are
born and what your parents do for a living."
The third reading is the final stage at which a bill can
be amended before it becomes law.
Baroness Thornton has commissioned the National
Institute of Economic and Social Research to conduct research
into the subject.
Based on the evidence and research presented in the
report, the government is expected to amend equality laws and
initiate measures to prevent caste-based discrimination in the
same way as discrimination on grounds of sex, colour,
religion, age and sexual orientation.
Lord Avebury, who belongs to the Liberal Democrats group,
had moved the amendment to the Equalities Bill 2009, and said
he believed the research would "conclusively prove that caste
discrimination does occur in the fields covered by the bill".
Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the
National Secular Society, said: "The blight of caste
discrimination, under which millions in India are regarded as
`untouchable`, has spread to this country virtually
In November 2009, research conducted by academics at the
universities of Manchester, Hertfordshire and Manchester
Metropolitan University said tens of thousands of people with
origins in the Indian sub-continent faced caste discrimination
The new study, whose main conclusion is that there
is considerable evidence of caste-based discrimination among
the Asians in Britain, was coordinated by the Anti-Caste
Discrimination Alliance (ACDA) and included academics from
The report, titled `Voice of the Community ? A Study
into Caste and Caste Discrimination in the UK`, says that the
caste system is widespread and that it affects tens of
thousands of people in the workplace, the classroom and even
the doctor`s surgery.
The study says: "There is clear evidence from the
survey and the focus groups that the caste system has been
imported into the UK with the Asian diaspora and that the
associated caste discrimination affects citizens in ways
beyond personal choices and social interaction.
"There is a danger that if the UK government does not
effectively accept and deal with the issue of caste
discrimination the problem will grow unchecked."