Next Tuesday, 16th April, MPs will have a chance to outlaw caste-based discrimination, when the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill comes back from the House of Lords to the House of Commons.
Caste is driven by birth, over many generations, and is in effect an extension of racial discrimination to a lower level. However, it is not covered by equality law, so lower-caste Hindus have no protection from caste discrimination against them.
On 4th March, the Lords voted by an overwhelming majority of 103 to ban caste discrimination under equality law, using an amendment to the Bill, after Libdem peers Lord Avebury (Eric Lubbock), Lord Lester and Lord Alton all spoke in support of the amendment.
The government opposed the amendment, because the Conservatives apparently believe that discrimination and abuse directed at lower-caste Hindus is best tackled by education and informal conciliation, not by law, despite the very clear evidence that caste discrimination damages the lives of many Hindus in the UK, and despite strong and united calls from Dalit communities for legal protection. No arguments were advanced in the Lords as to why caste discrimination should be treated any differently from race discrimination.
If the government felt the same way about discrimination on the grounds of race, sex or sexual orientation, presumably we wouldn't have any equality law at all.
This all puts Vince Cable in an awkward position: he's the minister responsible for steering the bill through the Commons, and it's clear that there's strong Liberal Democrat opposition to caste discrimination, but the amendment falls into the territory of a Conservative minister, Helen Grant, in the Ministry of Justice.
If the government stands firm in its opposition to this amendment, Vince will have to call on Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs to reject a fundamentally liberal position. He'll also run the risk that his bill will continue to bounce back and forth between the Lords and the Commons until one House or the other backs down or until the Parliament Act is invoked to force the legislation through. It's hard to think of a less worthy cause for the Parliament Act.
It's very possible that the government will back down, and accept the amendment. Please encourage them!
You can support the campaign in two ways:
You can find useful arguments on the National Secular Society's website, at http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2013/03/take-action-call-on-your-mp-to-outlaw-caste-discrimination , and there's a more detailed NSS briefing at http://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/caste-discrimination-briefing.pdf
Please respond straight away: we only have one week.
Thank you for your support.
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