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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Lords vote to enable discrimination on grounds of caste to become unlawful

The House of Lords voted have for enabling legislation to permit the outlawing of discrimination on the grounds of caste in the Report stage of the Equality Bill. Under the measure a Minister can initiate an order at any time without further primary legislation. The expectation is for the caste discrimination provisions to be triggered following a report commissioned by the Government Equalities Office. It will establish the extent of caste discrimination in the UK.

The measure was proposed by Lib Dem Lords Avebury and Lester of Herne Hill QC as well as Lord Harries, the former bishop of Oxford. Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society worked with the LibDems, Lord Harries, anti-caste groups and discrimination lawyers to bring about this measure. NSS Honorary Associates Lady Flather and Evan Harris MP have also played key roles in bringing this measure to fruition.

Keith Porteous Wood said: “This is a historic moment where discrimination against thousands of people in Britain is on the brink of being made unlawful. The blight of caste discrimination, under which millions in India are regarded as “untouchable”, has spread to this country virtually unnoticed.

“Parliamentarians have been convinced by meeting anti-caste campaigners and from hearing the personal experiences of peers such as Baroness Flather that employment discrimination on caste has spread as part of the diaspora.

“The legislation is a fitting response to the first international conference on untouchability which was held in London last summer by the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Lord Avebury, Lord Desai (an NSS Honorary Associate) and I took part. It called for the outlawing of caste discrimination. This was its concluding statement

Published Wed, 03 Mar 2010