Published in Issue – I, June 2013
“As Hindus migrate to other regions of the earth, Indian caste would become a world problem”
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
It was a regular pub in the teeming Indian quarter of London otherwise known as Southall, but on the wall someone had scrawled, “Chamars and dogs not allowed.” – London-1992.
On 4th March 2013, an Amendment Clause to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill making Caste an aspect of race in the Equality Act was agreed in the House of Lords with a majority of 103 votes.
Earlier in 2001:
At the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related tolerance, a conference promoted by the United Nations in Durban, held in 2001, the National Human Rights Commission in India Indicated that it would follow on the declaration and programs adopted at Durban Conference.
The Indian Government mischievously avoided the issue of caste discrimination in Durban giving bizarre justifications that caste is an internal affair. India’s answer to the request of discussing also the caste system ranged from claiming that the issue was an internal affair, not to be interfered with by the United Nations. Further adding to the wounds of victims of caste based discrimination, the Indian government ensured that, given the legislation in place, caste was no longer a problem that needed to be addressed.
In 2002 the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), noting that the existence of such discrimination has become evident, and strongly condemning descent based discrimination, such as discrimination on the basis of caste and analogous systems of inherited status, as a violation of the Convention, recommended measures of general and specific nature to avoid discrimination, segregation, dissemination of hate and to promote the civil, political, economic and social harmony.
United Kingdom: Evidence of Caste Discrimination in the form of case studies and testimonies were presented to Government by a number of organizations since 2004 in the UK including the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA), Dalit Solidarity Network UK, Caste Watch UK, the Federation of Ambedkarites and Buddhists Organizations UK, Voice of Dalit International, British Asian Christian Council, Mr. Guru Valmiki Sabha International, Central Valmiki Sabha International and the Association for Community Cohesion. The report `Hidden Apartheid – Voice of the Community – Caste and Caste Discrimination in the UK’ in November 2009 by the ACDA in collaboration with Professor Stephen Whittle OBE, Professor of Equalities Law University of Manchester and Dr Roger Green, Centre for Community Research, University of Hertfordshire was presented to Government. The study in which over 300 people participated provided clear evidence that was required by Government.
Their demand was simple- “If Caste Discrimination is not treated in the same way as other forms of unacceptable discrimination in the UK, it will continue to flourish because it will have been left unchecked. In the long term this would hinder the creation of the much fairer and cohesive society to which the Government says it is committed”.
Mr. Rajinder Rattu, Community Activist and Managing Director, Neighborhood Consultancy Ltd says “‘Growing up in Birmingham I faced tremendous caste discrimination and ill treatment because I was a Dalit (or Untouchable) at the hands of so called high caste people. I became involved in the anti-caste movement so that victims of modern day discrimination would have a voice and legal redress”.
Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA)
ACDA a voluntary organization and an Umbrella body for a number of groups and organizations who were working to eliminate Caste Discrimination in the UK played a major role in organizing and taking up the issue in the United Kingdom. Hidden Apartheid, Voice of Community – Caste and Caste Discrimination in the UK prepared its report in November 2009.
The Key findings of the report were:
- 45% stated that they had been either treated in a negative way by their co workers (20%), or had had dismissive comments made about them on account of their caste (25%);
- 9% believed they had missed promotion at work due to their caste;
- 9% stated they had experienced verbal abuse;
- 7% said that, when they were under 12 years old, they had been subjected to threatening behaviour, and 16% to verbal abuse;
- 10% of perpetrators of caste-based discrimination for the under 12s were said to have been teachers, and 42% fellow pupils;
- 13% stated that a community nurse had asked them directly or indirectly about their caste;
- 18% stated that they knew the Caste system existed because of places of worship specific to particular castes;
- 58% confirmed that they had been discriminated against because of their caste;
- 79% believed they would not be understood appropriately by the UK police service if they reported a “hate crime” incident based on Caste-based discrimination;
- 85% were aware that there is no legislation in place to protect victims of Caste based discrimination.
“As long as caste in India does exist, Hindus will hardly intermarry or have social intercourse with outsiders; as Hindus migrate to other regions of the earth, Indian caste would become a world problem.” This was stated by Dr. Ambedkar way back in 1916 in his first published paper ‘Caste in India’ which was subsequently published in the Indian Antiquary of May 1917, before being published in the book form and became the first published work of Dr. Ambedkar.
The caste Hindus proved the fears of Dr. Ambedkar. What Dr. Ambedkar said in 1916 became a reality in U.K. One can only escape the poison if he migrates to a country where there are no Hindus. Once they come, the pest of caste follows.
The Economics of Caste
Dr. Ambedkar saw in his own country that Industry, Trade, Finance and the controlling positions in the Indian Economy are monopolized by few castes. “Caste system is not merely division of labour. It is division of labourers. It has affected the mobility, efficiency and dignity of labourers. While visiting the narrow lanes of Industrial areas and speaking to labourers he found that caste system has proved to be an ‘Unnatural division of labourers into water-tight compartments.
One has to carefully understand the economics of caste, otherwise those upholding the sacred religion which prohibited touch of an untouchable, which polluted them by a mere touch would not have been controlling and owning the biggest businesses in India like export of beef and meat, the biggest pathology labs which collect urine and shit samples, the professions of doctors where post-mortem of dead body is to be done, collecting the leftover food in flights and disposal of waste plates and owning the biggest toilet chains in India.
The inclusion of Section 9(5) A in the Equality Act 2010 provides for Caste to be treated as an aspect of Race if independent evidence of Caste-based Discrimination comes to light.
According to the study of National Institute of Economic and Social Research UK, “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 discrimination affects citizens in ways beyond personal choices and social interaction.”
The victory in the House of Lords sent a strong and unequivocal message that discrimination on the grounds of Caste has no place in the U.K. After a setback in house of Commons, for the third time in 6 weeks, Dalit groups, communities and campaign organizations made a call to rally in Parliament Square to continue to urge the government to do the necessary to legislate against caste discrimination in the UK. Their call was again answered as coach loads of people from across the country joined members of Caste Watch UK, Dalit Solidarity Network UK, Voice of Dalit International, Federation of Ambedkarite Buddhist Organizations UK, Central Valmik Sabha UK, Indian Christian Concern and Dr Ambedkar Memorial Committee GB, as well as scores of regional and community organizations and met at the rally.
As the Shadow Junior Minister for Equalities Kate Green, MP and Ms. Seema Malhotra, MP, came out to the crowd to break the momentous news – the UK Parliament had passed the amendment without the need for a vote, as there was cross-party consensus!
Kate Green announced that Caste discrimination would soon be outlawed in the UK which brought cheers and whoops from the 1000 people present.
‘This is a major victory for us. Our planned demonstration in Parliament Square today to protest against the Government’s stand on the issue has now turned into a celebration,’ said Caste Watch UK General Secretary Davinder Prasad, who has been spearheading a campaign in favour of caste-based discrimination to be included in the UK’s equality laws.
Today, with power and strength of communities and wisdom of British Parliament a last push was given to bury it for good. I pay tributes to all who stayed the course and witnessed the epoch making event. There was singing, dancing and as ever with us Asians – a plethora of delicious food and snacks to be had and shared by all with everyone there.
Blacks and Dr. Ambedkar
It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of the Israelites in Egypt, or the life of the Blacks in America or the condition of the Jews in Germany was better than the life of Scheduled Castes in India, their own land. At a Pacific Relations conference in Canada, Dr. Ambedkar related the problems of Untouchables to be worse than the problems of Slaves, Blacks and Jews. He stated that the problem of untouchability is worse than racism. ‘There is a South Africa in every village of India’, he said.
The Indian Constitution has formally abolished castes in 1950.Among other, articles 15, Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, 17, Abolition of Untouchability, 29, Protection of interests of minorities and 46, Promotion of educational and economic interests of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections, clearly ban the discriminatory nature of caste forbidding any discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth and provide for proper protection against caste-based discrimination. Following such constitutional guarantees, the Indian government has successively passed the Protection of Civil Rights Act (1955), the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act (1976), the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (1989) and the Employment of Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act (1993).
Despite these efforts, the effects of these and related laws have been in many cases painfully slow, if not negligible. And, by reaction, caste violence is on constant rise since the early 1990s, causing thousands of deaths. The point is India is not lacking laws, but law enforcement or, in other words, political will, not only in those rural regions where the main part of the population (and over 80 per cent of the dalits) are living, but also in cities, workplaces, central and state government departments, public sector undertakings where the policy of reservation is implemented, where the SC-ST employees are at the mercy of their castiest bosses, the private sector is not behind as in India the name suggests the caste of an Individual, discrimination exists everywhere. The atrocities like Khairlanji and Dharmpuri continue even after existing laws.
Lessons to be learnt: The Dalits in India need to learn from the U.K success story of different Dalit organisations uniting for a common cause, their show of strength and power, the perseverance. While there is absolutely no harm in having number of organisations, they need to honestly take up the cause which their saviour Dr. Ambedkar began more than a century ago.
Dr. Ambedkar said “I shall be satisfied if I make the Hindus realize that they are the sick men of India and that their sickness is causing danger to the health and happiness of other Indians”.
The damage has been done, not only to other Indians but also globally. Countries which never witnessed the unusual and absurd phenomenon of Caste are now testimony to hundreds of caste apartheid incidents. The U.K government has shown wisdom and acumen to outlaw caste discrimination. The Indian government already has laws in place, the only thing needed is – implementation in true spirit.
The Indian government will have to tackle the caste plight more seriously than ever in the next few years, not only because India is now exposed to increasing international relations and scrutiny, but even because this shaming and perverse system is already acting as a political destabilizing factor, so that the future of the whole Indian society will strongly depend on the solutions given to this issue.