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Britain set to protect Dalit rights

UK's 400,000 'untouchables' cheer government U-turn

Britain set to protect Dalit rights
Britain's parliament has indicated a ban on discrimination against Dalits (photo by AFP/ Ben Stansall)
Mike MacLachlan, London
United Kingdom

April 24, 2013

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The UK government plans to outlaw discrimination against Dalits, or ‘untouchables,’ in Britain, it was announced on Tuesday.

The upper house, the House of Lords, has voted twice in a month for legal protection to be given to the estimated 400,000 Dalits in the country.

The lower house overturned the first vote but after a second poll on Monday the government has made a U-turn.

Vince Cable, the business secretary, said on Tuesday that caste would in future be treated as “an aspect of race.”

Dalit groups in Britain such as the Dalit Solidarity Network and Voice of Dalit International (VODI) have long campaigned against discrimination, demonstrating outside parliament during previous debates on the issue.

“We are very happy,” Eugene Culas, director of VODI, said on Tuesday. “We had about 1,000 people people outside parliament today and we were laughing, cheering, clapping, handing out sweets.”

The Times of India reported on Wednesday that the gathering outside parliament had been planned as a protest but turned into a celebration.

 “This is a major victory for us,” Davinder Prasad, general secretary of Caste Watch UK, was quoted as saying.

Campaigners say that in Britain’s many Indian-owned businesses Dalits are forced to do lowly, poorly paid work and are denied promotion. In India such discrimination is illegal in theory, but remains widespread in practice.

In the parliamentary debate on the issue earlier this month, Equalities Minister Jo Swinson told MPs that legislation might increase stigma rather than ease the problem.

But a Conservative member of parliament, Richard Fuller, replied: “This is a straightforward issue. Caste discrimination in the workplace is wrong and the people who suffer from it deserve legal protection.

“That’s it. Beginning and end.”

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