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Introduction of law to prevent caste discrimination

31st July 2013
The Equality Act 2010 contains provisions that enabled the Government to make "caste" a protected characteristic that could be protected under the anti-discrimination law. The Government has just published a timetable which sets out the process for making caste discrimination illegal.
The "caste system" is a very ancient Indian system of classification of people into distinct categories according to their status at birth and the existing status of their family within that system. The caste system, in its strictest sense, historically determined access to education, the types of jobs and job opportunities available to individuals, and the families within which marriages may take place.The caste system is essentially from India, and has been operated primarily within the Hindu and Sikh communities.  
The process of making caste discrimination illegal was uncertain for some time. In March 2013 the Government announced that it did not plan on expressly making caste discrimination illegal under the Equality Act 2010. At that point the Government hoped that the issue could be addressed through consultation with affected communities and running an educational programme to combat this form of discrimination. The Government appointed a community interest group "Talk for a Change" to engage with affected communities over the issue, particularly Hindu and Sikh communities. The aim of "Talk for a Change" is to find practical solutions to the problem and harm that caste-based prejudice and discrimination causes. In addition they seek to make the affected communities and individuals aware of the help and redress that is already available- such as through the criminal law.
In the House of Lords the Government move to refrain from adding "caste" as a protected characteristic was rejected. Therefore the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 was amended to add "caste" as a protected characteristic, thus being included within the anti-discrimination protection under the Equality Act 2010.
As a consequence of the defeat in the House of Lords the Government has now published a timetable for making "caste" a protected characteristic under the Equality Act  2010. The timetable shows that work on this will commence this summer, and lst between 3 and 5 weeks. This work will involve discussions with certain individuals and groups with an interest or concern over caste discrimination. Then in February or March 2014 a public consultation will set out the Governments proposals for legislation on caste discrimination- including defining "caste" in that legislation. That consultation will take some 12 weeks. This will be followed by some targeted engagement with groups needing familiarity with the new legislation. The final response to the consultation and a draft Order outlawing caste discrimination is then expected in August 2014. 
Throughout the process the Talk for a Change project will continue, which is expected to include running a series of pilot initiatives working at local level.
If you have any questions on the issues raised in this article do not hesitate to contact us at Hallett Employment Law Services Ltd.     
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