Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/762/16568
Caste discrimination: MPs side with oppressors not oppressed
Senan, Tamil Solidarity international coordinator
Hundreds protested outside parliament on 14 April to demand the outlawing of caste oppression in Britain.
A 2010 attempt to illegalise the discrimination suffered by many of South Asian origin was rejected by all three parties.
This time MPs again voted against adding caste discrimination to the Equality Act by 307 to 243.
In 2010 parliament accepted a compromise motion from Labour left John McDonnell to undertake research, which has now been published.
Outrageously during the recent parliamentary debate ministers, led by Lib Dem equalities minister Jo Swinson, continued to claim there is insufficient evidence of the extent of caste discrimination.
Not only has ample evidence been uncovered by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), hundreds of victims of this horrendous discrimination were outside parliament at the time. Further devastating testimonials were reported in the press.
The NIESR research showed caste-based discrimination in schools and workplaces. In one incident a student was refused entry to a school.
There are many complaints of upper-caste carers refusing to provide care for oppressed-caste patients.
Recently the tribunal case of Vijay Begraj, a victim of caste discrimination at work, was thrown out as the judge was given information that she claimed could have impaired her ability to provide an 'impartial' judgement.
During the case stones were thrown at the house of director of Castewatch UK who gave evidence.
There have even been murders related to mixed caste marriages in the past and mixed couples who want to marry still receive death threats. But the government refuses to take action.
While caste oppression can be largely invisible to wider society, it causes enormous pain to those subjected to it.
An estimated 400,000 'low-caste' people live in Britain. Swinson and those who opposed the amendment argued for education and not legislation to challenge discrimination - but both are necessary.
Caste is a remnant of feudalism, where society was divided into hierarchical groups, castes. People are forced to assume their caste by birth.
Hinduism acts as the backbone in preserving the caste system but it is also defended by those who enjoy the resulting privileges, such as those from the upper caste and those who use caste division to advance and defend their own interests.
Although caste discrimination is illegal in India, hundreds of low- or oppressed-caste people suffer every day.
The debate revealed that the government, in defence of the status quo, is working closely with the very organisations that fuel caste oppression; the Hindu Council UK, the Hindu Forum of Britain and other organisations that are led by high-caste Hindus.
While claiming they don't practice 'untouchability', the Hindu Council defends it. A Hindu Council statement attacks those who criticise untouchability while ignoring discrimination in their own countries.
Incredibly they claim that: "There are now record levels of homeless people in the UK, who are analogous with the outcastes of Indian society.
"British menial workers seldom interact socially with those of the higher echelons". Of course poverty and inequality must be challenged in every instance.
Conservative MP Alok Sharma, who has travelled to South Asia to promote trade links, defends the Hindu Council vehemently.
He argues that "class discrimination exists, as do other forms of discrimination, but we follow other approaches for those, rather than legislation".
The accusation that class discrimination is often confused with caste discrimination is used by the Hindu elite to gain support.
They rely on the ruling class's ignorance of South Indian society, portraying Hinduism as a monolithic religion and India as a country of Hindus.
Atrocities committed by British imperialism in South Asia have also been used to argue that no one from Britain has a right to meddle in these affairs.
This is combined with the idea that 'communities' should have a certain level of autonomy.
In reality this means that an often conservative and right-wing leadership is consciously promoted by the main parties, New Labour in particular.
This has provided 'stewards' to maintain what Labour sees as block 'community' votes, and to hold back resistance to the discrimination working class and poor black and Asian people suffer in Britain.
However Dalits and other oppressed caste people in Britain have begun to raise their voices and to protest against the promotion of upper-caste Hindus by the government.
The growing protest has pushed some Labour politicians to act, at least providing lip service to their cause.
Neither the equality bill nor any anti-racial laws cover caste discrimination, leaving victims unable to challenge it legally.
Outlawing caste discrimination will encourage the victims of caste discrimination to come forward as happened after the outlawing of race discrimination.
However, as with legislation against racism, the law itself will not change the conditions and prevent discrimination.
In fact there is no doubt that the ruling class, unless stopped, will continue their collaboration with the feudal elite from each 'community', promoting inequality for their own economic and electoral interests.
See www.tamilsolidarity.org for a longer version of this article
In The Socialist 24 April 2013:
Socialist Party NHS news and campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
The Socialist; readers' comments