Comments on the NIESR publication
Caste discrimination and harassment in Great Britain
Hilary Metcalf and Heather Rolfe
Response from Hindu Council UK:
1. It is a great pity that during the passage of The Equality Bill through Parliament, having acknowledged that the available evidence did not indicate that caste discrimination was a significant problem in Britain in the areas covered by discrimination legislation, The Parliament proceeded to accept an amendment to The Equality Bill by inserting a new provision to include caste to be an aspect of Race by a Ministerial decision. By doing so, the Act which was supposedly designed to simplify and streamline discrimination law in Britain seems to have defeated this very objective by including the concept of caste that has eluded clear definition in common parlance, let alone in legal terms.
2. The report by Hilary Metcalf and Heather Rolfe did fairly identify the difficulties in defining the term 'caste'. Nevertheless, it proceeded to accept a vague concept for the purpose of the study and base its conclusions on the slimmest of anecdotal evidence leaving the tribunal to construe its own definition in each individual case.
3. In the preamble to the report, it states that the caste system originated in Hinduism. This is a gross misunderstanding of the concept of Varna in Hinduism and such an assertion further proliferates one of the many myths about Hinduism that abound. The Hindu concept of classification of mankind by man's attainment of virtuous qualities and his deeds has been hijacked by opportunists over generations to establish social stratification to secure power, social status and access to resources. Social stratification exists in all societies in the guise of tribe, race, sectarianism, occupation etc. However, since we are considering the British society today, it is not the historic facts that we are concerned with, although it is unhelpful to make inaccurate assertions in support of any cause.
4. Leaving aside the true meaning of what is meant by Varna in Hinduism, historically; various sections of every society have always tried to use their birth status as a means of advancement for their own cause. Caste system as practiced is no exception. However, in Britain today, we have progressed a long way from the historic tribal society and people from all parts of the globe regardless of their race, religion or other distinguishing attributes have been living together reasonably harmoniously. The report, however, seems to dwell mainly on the sections of the population acting as pressure groups to advance their own cause, be it in the UK or in the country where they hailed from.
5. The report makes reference, in passing, to educative or legislative approach to reduce caste discrimination. However, it casually dismisses the non-legislative approach as a possible recourse. Since the perceived caste discrimination is a social malaise primarily arising out of ignorance and personal prejudice, legislative approach is most likely to be ineffective in combating any large scale problem should it exist. Enshrining the vague and undefined concept of caste in British Legislation will tend to perpetrate this outdated and dying concept in Britain and elsewhere.
Perhaps that is exactly what the pro legislation pressure groups want.
6. In the absence of consensus on the meaning of the word caste, any legislation on the issue of discrimination on the basis of caste is likely to be a legal minefield for the tribunal to resolve and place an ordinary person on the defensive. The Act can even set up an unsuspecting employer to fall foul of The Act when he/she has to second guess as to what any tribunal might think.
7. In various parts of the report, it acknowledges its limitations and the inconclusive nature on many issues such as the extent of discrimination. Even the number of people likely to be affected is no better than a guess work.
8. HCUK does accept that there is discrimination on various grounds such as race, gender, disability etc., and often, legislation is necessary in the interest of fairness to victims of discrimination. However, extending the scope of The Act to include caste within its scope in Britain without substantial evidence will be a big mistake. The approach should be to commission a proper research in the first place and then take measures through better education. As the report clearly acknowledges, there is no evidence to suggest the existence of large scale discrimination based on caste in Britain. Therefore we feel that to yield to the pressure group and to include caste within the scope of The Act will only rekindle the dying issue of caste.
24 August 2011