Caste discrimination: Frequently Asked Questions

Caste discrimination: Frequently Asked Questions

The caste system is the result of ancient religious and cultural beliefs, most often, though not exclusively, associated with Hinduism and Sikhism. The caste system is imbued with inequality and discrimination, and is in diametric opposition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The caste system is based on a division of labour and the concept of a spectrum of 'purity' and 'impurity'. Caste systems involve the division of people into one of a number of social groups where assignments of rights are determined by birth. These assignments are fixed and hereditary.

Caste prescribes the type of occupations a person can pursue and the social interactions that he or she may have. Those at the greatest disadvantage are called Dalits, formally known as 'untouchables'.

Inequality is at the core of the caste system. Caste discrimination is unlawful under India's constitution, but is still widely practised.

Caste discrimination has emerged within diaspora communities in the UK.

A 2010 government-commissioned report into the prevalence of caste discrimination in the UK estimated there are at least 50,000 (and perhaps in excess of 200,000) people living in Great Britain who are classified as "low caste". It found significant evidence of caste-based discrimination, harassment and bullying in employment, education and in the provision of services, including care.

Examples included:

  • B worked in the catering section of a hospital. Most of her colleagues were Jatt ('high caste') Sikhs. She experienced discrimination from them after they found out her caste. During lunch breaks B and her friend, also low caste, would sit on a separate table as the other women did not want to sit with them. They were excluded from casual conversations. The other women would openly ridicule the "Chamars" (Dalits) and the "dirty work" they do.
  • C worked as a mechanical engineer. In the workplace, employees had to clean their own spillages. A Sikh Jatt refused to clean his own spillage. He said to the foreman, "It's not my job, I'm high caste. It's the job he should be doing," indicating C. C raised this with the company and the union, but they did not understand why it was so offensive.

  • D's first job in the UK was in a clothing factory where he worked for a very short while before being asked his caste. Soon after he was told that there was no more work, although he found out that they had recruited a replacement worker and was told that the employer did not want a Chamar in the factory.

We want caste-based discrimination to be recognised as a form of discrimination under UK equality legislation.

Moves to prohibit caste discrimination have faced strong opposition from groups representing 'high caste' interests.

A provision in the Equality Act 2010 that enabled secondary legislation to be passed by a Ministerial Order to include 'caste' as a specific protected characteristic was replaced in 2013 by an instruction by parliament to the government to outlaw such discrimination, a move strongly endorsed by the United Nations.

But in 2018, the government announced that it would not explicitly recognise caste-based discrimination under equality legislation, a decision criticised by the NSS, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and various organisations and individuals in the field of human rights.

Opponents claim legislating against caste discrimination would be an 'attack' on Hindus. Some opponents of legislation claim to be unaware of caste discrimination and therefore deem it unnecessary without much greater evidence of caste discrimination than has been produced so far. This view appears to be more prevalent among those from so-called higher castes, who would by the very nature of caste be less likely to suffer adversely from discrimination, and in fact be likely to benefit from the status quo. It has also been claimed that legislation would displease the Modi-led Indian government, which increasingly promotes Hindu nationalist (Hindutva) policies.

While caste remains unrecognised as an explicitly protected characteristic in equality law, victims of caste discrimination currently have to use unclear and precarious case law to secure justice.

An express provision in the Equality Act 2010 would remove any legal uncertainty.

If you have been a victim of a caste prejudiced incident or caste hate crime and are still in danger, please call 999. If you are no longer in danger but would like to speak to the police, please call 101.

You can find more advice on racial discrimination at Citizens Advice. Please note that this is not a reporting platform for crimes or incidents that would require action by the police or other authorities. It is solely for the collection of a body of evidence that caste hate speech or discriminatory behaviour exists in the UK and has a serious effect on the victims.

Dalit Solidarity Network UK would like to hear from people who have suffered caste discrimination the UK. It has launched an "Everyday casteism" campaign to catalogue instances of casteist behaviour, including incidents of discriminatory or caste hate speech behaviour, experienced on a day to day basis by people perceived to be 'lower' caste in the UK. You can find out more and report incidents here.

The Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance is also cataloguing instances of caste discrimination. You can report incidents here.