UNITED KINGDOM, July 11, 2013 (The Independent): Landmark legislation to ban caste discrimination in Britain is being deliberately thwarted by the Conservative equalities ministers in charge of getting it on the statute book, a leaked document indicates.
Discrimination on the basis of caste was outlawed in April as part of the Equality Act, after Business Secretary Vince Cable secured a last-minute amendment. The Act was supposed to mean the estimated 400,000 Dalits - so-called untouchables - who live in the UK would have legal protection from discrimination by other Hindus. But in a letter to Hindu groups opposed to the legislation shown to The Independent, equalities minister Helen Grant says a safeguard has been introduced so the caste legislation can be removed from the statute book if reviews show it is not appropriate. She urges the groups to submit evidence against the law to an ongoing consultation "as we remain convinced" legislation is unnecessary.
Politicians and equality campaigners say the letter appears to be a fishing exercise, designed to gather support for the view that the new legislation is not needed. They also believe it shows that she has "prejudged" the consultation.
The issue of caste discrimination divided the Coalition, with Liberal Democrats supporting the addition to the legislation and Conservatives opposed. Liberal Democrat Lord Avebury said: "It's entirely improper that the minister who's supposed to be implementing the legislation - and initiating the consultation - is making it clear she's opposed to the whole process."
Meena Varma, director of the Dalit Solidarity Network UK, said: "Until this legislation is passed, the thousands of Dalits who say they are discriminated against will have no recourse to justice. Grant's tactic seems to be to kick the whole thing into the long grass until five years have passed and the Government can scrap the legislation."
A Government spokeswoman said: "Parliament has said that legislation needs to be passed to make caste discrimination unlawful. We are not just committed to the eradication of any sense of caste discrimination, but to ensuring that caste itself does not become a permanent feature of British society. To prevent this from happening, we have included a measure that will allow for the new caste protections to be reviewed after five years, to see whether they remain appropriate and necessary."