ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Public Consultation on Caste and Equality Law

Caste in Britain

The United Kingdom government has started a public consultation on caste in Great Britain and the equality law with the official response expected soon. British Dalits have demanded protection in legislation from caste discrimination for many years, but have faced concerted opposition not just to legislation but even to raising the issue at all, mainly from faith-based organisations and a handful of politicians and civil society actors, some of whom object to any legal protection against caste discrimination, including developments in case law which might extend protection through the existing Equality Act from discrimination based on ethnic origins to discrimination based on caste.

On 28 March 2017, Theresa May’s Conservative government launched a public consultation on the Caste in Great Britain and Equality Law (henceforth Equality Law) (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/caste-in-great-britain-and-equality-law-a-public-consulation). Participants were asked to choose between two options for prohibiting caste discrimination by law: Option (1) relying on the development of case law to include caste within the meaning of “ethnic origins” in Section 9 of the Equality Act, 2010, or Option (2) specifying caste in the Equality Act. The consultation closed on 18 September 2017; the government’s response is expected this year. Since its announcement on 2 September 2016, the premise of the consultation was questioned by British Dalit organisations and other civil society actors, given that in 2013 Parliament had amended the Equality Act, 2010 by imposing a statutory duty on the government to introduce secondary legislation specifying caste in the Equality Act, “as an aspect of” the protected characteristic of race—a duty which remains unimplemented. British Dalits have demanded protection in legislation from caste discrimination for many years, but have faced concerted opposition not just to legislation but even to raising the issue at all, mainly from faith-based organisations and a handful of politicians and civil society actors, some of whom object to any legal protection against caste discrimination, including developments in case law which might extend protection through the existing Equality Act from discrimination based on ethnic origins to discrimination based on caste.

The Equality Act 2010, introduced by the 2005–10 Labour government, does not at present specifically prohibit caste discrimination. British anti-discrimination legislation has never been all-encompassing; it prohibits discrimination on grounds of certain personal characteristics in certain defined areas, outside of which discrimination is lawful. The Equality Act does not cover conduct or behaviour in the private or intimate spheres (for example, friendships, socialising); discrimination in these areas is not unlawful. The grounds of discrimination, or “protected characteristics,” are extended either by legislation, or by judicial interpretation of existing grounds in cases that come before courts and tribunals (case law).

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Updated On : 14th Mar, 2018

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