ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Casteism amongst Punjabis in Britain

Despite clear evidence of caste-based discrimination, harassment and victimisation, Punjabis in Britain stand divided on identifying with the victims of casteism. In the context of legislative, religious and academic contestations on caste discrimination in Britain, this article argues for acknowledging casteism where it exists.

In April 2013, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act (ERRA) was enacted in Britain. Section 97 of the ERRA requires government to introduce a statutory prohibition of caste discrimination into British equality law by making “caste” an aspect of the protected characteristic of “race” in the Equality Act 2010, thus prohibiting caste discrimination as a subset of race discrimination. In the context of this direction, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) contracted a team of experts drawn from different research institutions to carry out an independent study on caste in Britain. I led this team from September 2013 to February 2014. Alongside a detailed review of sociolegal research on this issue, we conducted an experts’ seminar and a stakeholders’ event, producing two reports (Dhanda et al 2014a, 2014b). My intense engagement in this short period with experts and stakeholders offered a unique opportunity to gauge the range of positions on caste in the diaspora. It is important to locate the divergence in views in a complex political economy, including within it the restricted exchange of psychic energies enforced by a dual life in the diaspora, closeted by usually subtle, but sometimes obvious, forms of racism and casteism.

In May 2015, the issue of caste was catapulted to centre stage once again in Britain, raising the political stakes of South Asian voters in the general election. Conservative party candidates were actively lobbied by sections of the South Asian voters to axe the inclusion of caste in the Equality Act 2010, which had been made mandatory by the ERRA, subject to the passage of a secondary order following public consultation. The Conservative party won, the consultation on the secondary order was pushed into the “long-grass” and has not happened at the time of writing. Under pressure from various quarters, the government announced on 2 September 2016 that it will open consultation on whether caste needs to be added to legislation at all, instead of the previously promised consultation on the mandatory secondary order. The pressures of the anti-legislation lobby to avoid at all costs the mention of “caste” in the Equality Act 2010 are relentless. On 15 December 2016, the Conservative MP Bob Blackman (MP Harrow East) demanded “a statement to the House on the consultation document before Parliament rises, so that British Hindus have the optimal opportunity to respond” and “the opportunity to ensure that this ill-thought-out, divisive and unnecessary legislation is removed from the statute book.” Lies beget lies.

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Updated On : 19th Jan, 2017

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