When the Equality Act was being introduced there had been suggestions raised as part of the Discrimination Law Review that discrimination law should be expanded to protect caste. In the course of the Commons debates on the Act, the government indicated that the EHRC took the view that caste already falls within the concept of “race” and that a specific mention of caste in the Act was unnecessary. These ideas were eventually rejected in the government’s response to the consultation but caste was not included in the Act.
However, the first caste discrimination case is now before the Employment Tribunal. It involves a young couple’s claim that the Indian caste system affects lives in Britain. The man, from the lower caste known as the “Untouchables”, was a practice manager at a Coventry based law firm, where he met his future wife, a solicitor. She, like her employers, comes from a higher caste. She believes her inter-caste relationship upset her employers resulting in her being given more work, less secretarial support and less pay than other solicitors at the company and him being dismissed last year after seven years service. She resigned last year. Mr Begraj is claiming wrongful dismissal and his wife is claiming unfair constructive dismissal. The tribunal will also rule on whether they were discriminated against on grounds of religion or race or caste.
The Tribunal may decide that the couple have been discriminated against on the grounds of religion or race as one is Hindu and the other is Sikh.
Commentators believe that UK law is unclear as to whether caste discrimination is unlawful in the UK: The Equality and Human Rights Commission believe it is but many believe that caste cannot be fitted into the current definition of race discrimination which includes ethnic origin.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is considering whether to exercise her powers to outlaw this type of discrimination by adding the caste system to the Equality Act.
The Tribunal hearing continues. Whatever the outcome of this case, clarity on the law for all claimants can only be rectified by legislation.
Stay tuned for future developments on this case.