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Thursday, 6 July 2017

UK extends deadline on public consultation for law against caste bias

As rival groups intensify lobbying, the Theresa May government has extended by two months the deadline for public consultation on the sensitive issue of introducing legislation to outlaw caste- based discrimination – a key issue for Britain’s Indian community.


There has been much lobbying to support and oppose such legislation. Groups such as Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance allege Dalit communities face discrimination in the UK, while several Hindu, Sikh, Jain groups deny it. The Government Equalities Office (GEO), which had earlier set July 17 as the deadline, said on Wednesday: “The closing date of the consultation is now 18 September 2017”.

The ruling Conservative party is seen to be closer to the influential Hindu-Sikh-Jain lobbies. Some Sikh groups might move court on the ground that Sikhs are not Hindus and therefore do not believe in the hierarchical caste system.

May told HT before the June election: “I recognise the sensitivity on the caste issue; there is a consultation taking place. There was wording put into the relevant legislation in the House of Lords by Labour and Liberal Democrats working together on that, but I realise how sensitive this issue is”.

The consultation is to seek views from people on how best to ensure that there is appropriate legal protection against caste bias. The ban could be applied by making caste an aspect of race in the Equality Act 2010 or by developing case law in the courts and employment tribunals.

“In either case, businesses and public authorities would have to consider caste discrimination in the same way they consider other aspects of race discrimination when dealing with employees, customers or service users”, it said.

India has objected in international fora in the past to the notion that caste is an aspect of race. Caste-based discrimination is not expressly prohibited under Britain’s equality legislation, but section 9 of the Equality Act 2010, as amended, requires the government to introduce secondary legislation to make caste an aspect of race, making caste discrimination a form of race discrimination.

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