Campaign for UK law to protect people against caste discrimination

  • Watch Nitya Rajan's report

Campaigners are calling for UK law to provide explicit protection against caste discrimination. 

The caste system, originally created in India, is a form of social hierarchy which has grouped people according to the types of jobs they do. 

The negative ramifications of belonging to a so-called low caste are still alive and kicking today.

Reena Josiah is a proud member of the Dalit community also known as the so-called untouchables.

She said: "There were kids that were't allowed to play with me because of my caste and that was very difficult. We're all from the same race, but I'm not allowed to play with certain people.

"We're seen as the rejects of society. 

"There was a woman who refused to take change from my hand because she deemed me as untouchable and unclean, so she wouldn't take change from my hand." 

Artist Reena Josiah is a proud member of the Dalit community also known as the so-called untouchables. Credit: ITV News

The concept of the caste system isn't new. At the Bharat Hindu Samaj temple in Peterborough they are well aware of its origins and impact.

Jayshree Mehta, President of Bharat Hindu Samaj temple, said: "The phrase caste system came in the 1840s but the system itself has been in practice since almost 1500 BC.

"Caste system divides the community or the people according to their jobs."

Campaigner Sat Muman said: "Castes are rigid, you are born into a caste and you die within the same caste, whereas in a class system, classes are mobile.

"You could be the president of a country and the stigma of caste will stay with you."

Defining caste is complicated. Originating in India it's practiced among a number of faiths including Christian, Hinduism and Sikhism.

Nitya Rajan speaks to 'Jay' who wanted to protect his identity. Credit: ITV News

Jay, whose name and identity has been protected, says he's seen caste discrimination play out first hand.

Jay said: "When we were recruiting solicitors, I shortlist people based on their merits.

"These partners of the firm were Sikh, from the Sikh Jat community. Without even looking at the credentials they would naturally look at the Sikh names first and put them, oh I'll bring this person to interview. 

"Within the Sikh and the Hindu community you can very easily identify people's caste through their surname."

Under the Equality Act caste is not explicitly covered, but colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins are. There are however a few lines stating caste could be an aspect of race.

But in 2018 the Government at the time announced they would be removing this part of the legislation. Barristers say this would remove legal clarity around what caste discrimination actually is and leave courts, local authorities and employers confused about how to deal with the problem.

Barrister Declan O'Dempsey said: "The lack of an explicit coverage means that, for example if you're an employer, you won't immediately see that caste discrimination is outlawed. That is going to have a chilling effect on the number of people who challenge caste discrimination."

There are no plans for explicit protection in UK law for caste discrimination. For now, the Government says their position is unchanged.