Hidden Apartheid: Caste and Caste Discrimination in the UK

January 11, 2010

Published by the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA), Great Britain. November 2009

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Executive Summary

Over the last 60 years, there has been a gradual increase in the numbers of people in the UK from the Indian subcontinent. These communities have settled here and brought with them their own social habits, norms and religious customs including the Caste system.

The Hindu Council UK and the Hindu Forum of Britain have both acknowledged in their reports that the Caste system exists in the UK. However, both bodies argue that Caste discrimination is not endemic in the UK, and only plays a role in social interactions and personal choices like marriages, conversations and friendships. A number of academics and UK organisations, including the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA), Dalit Solidarity Network UK (DSN), Federation of Ambedkarites and Buddhists Organisations (FABO) and CasteWatchUK (CWUK), argue otherwise. They say that the Caste system and the discrimination associated with it impacts in some form or other on the two million or so people in the UK from the Asian Diaspora and extends beyond social interaction.

On 8 October 2009, Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights publicly condemned Caste discrimination which affects 270 million people world-wide. Although other countries have laws to protect against Caste discrimination – for example, the Constitution of India 1950 abolishes the practice of Untouchability and makes caste discrimination unlawful – no such protection exists in the UK.

Key Findings: Overview

A preliminary search of the academic literature shows that this is an underresearched area. Both the online questionnaire and the focus groups confirm that the Caste system exists in the UK and the associated lack of Caste mobility is not consistent with the Government’s position of encouraging a more cohesive society.

A majority of the research participants identified negative experiences of the Caste system and Caste discrimination. For some, this had a traumatising effect on them resulting in low morale, low self esteem, depression and anxiety.

71 percent of survey responses identified themselves as belonging to the socalled ‘Dalit’ community. 58 percent of survey responses confirmed they had been discriminated against because of their Caste. 37 percent stated that this had occurred on several occasions. There are an estimated 175,000 Ravidassia people in the UK. Based on the survey data, over 100,000 of this population alone may be victims of Caste discrimination in the UK.

The majority – 79 percent – of survey responses stated they believed they would not be understood appropriately by the UK police service if they reported a ‘hate crime’ incident based on Caste discrimination.

85 percent believed there was no legislation in place to protect them as victims of Caste discrimination.

The government’s decision to not include a clause in the Equality Bill 2009 to protect citizens against Caste discrimination in the UK seems mainly to have been informed by the Hindu Forum of Britain and the Hindu Council UK’s reports and representations – and an unrepresentative and restricted sample of 19 replies.

Key Findings: Employment-based Discrimination

• 45 percent of people who responded to the survey stated that they had been either treated in a negative way by their co-workers (20 percent) or had comments made about them on account of their Caste status (25 percent). 25 percent indicated that they had been informally excluded from social events, informal networks in the organisation or the ‘grapevine’ because of their Caste. Similarly, nine percent stated that they believed they had missed promotion at work due to their Caste, with a further ten percent stating that they had been underpaid because of their Caste. Nine percent stated they had experienced verbal abuse. Five percent had been subjected to threatening behaviour because of their Caste.

• Similar experiences came to light in the focus groups. For example, there was a case of a woman who believed she had been demoted from a good position at a local radio station when her line-manager discovered her Caste. Another workplace example was that of a manager of bus company in Southampton who had to re-organise the shift system so that a “higher Caste” inspector would not need to work with a “lower Caste” bus driver.

• There are increasing numbers of Indian companies setting up in Britain. Such companies may inadvertently import Caste-based practices to the UK.

Key Findings: Education-based Discrimination

• Seven percent in the survey said that when they were under 12 years old they had been subjected to threatening behaviour and 16 percent to verbal abuse because of their Caste.

• 10 percent of the perpetrators of Caste discrimination for the under 12s were said to have been teachers, and 42 percent fellow pupils. These survey results were supported by the numerous examples that came to light in the focus groups including Caste-related bullying.

Key Findings: Discrimination in Provision of Goods and Services

• Although the survey focused on the areas of provision of healthcare and social care services, other aspects of service provision including access to goods and facilities in places of worship (which often double as community centres) were highlighted during the focus groups.

• Of the 43 out of the 101 people who responded to the online survey question about healthcare provision, 25 percent stated their family doctor had asked them directly or indirectly about their Caste and 16 percent had experienced the same questioning from a nurse at their Doctor’s surgery, and 13 percent from a community nurse. A significant number of doctors practising in the NHS are from overseas (the vast majority from the Indian subcontinent). This indicates a potential for Caste discrimination occurring in the healthcare sector which was highlighted in the focus group cases, one relating to an elderly woman’s care worker discriminating against her because of her Caste, and the second case about a physiotherapist refusing to treat someone of a low Caste.

Key Findings: Discrimination in Places of Worship

• 18 percent of survey responses stated they knew the Caste system exists because of places of worship specific to particular Castes.

• In one focus group a man told ACDA about how he had booked his daughter’s wedding to take place at a hall in a Sikh gurdwara, and a few days before the wedding he was informed by the gurdwara that he could no longer hold the wedding there. He believed this was due to his Caste. Another focus group attendee said, “We had a photo of Guru Ravidass at a Sikh temple and they [the temple priests] repositioned it in front of the toilets.” This caused considerable offence to the followers of the Guru in a Sikh place of worship, given that Sikhism is considered an egalitarian faith.


There is clear evidence from the survey and the focus groups that the Caste system has been imported into the UK with the Asian Diaspora and that the associated Caste discrimination affects citizens in ways beyond personal choices and social interaction. There is a danger that if the UK Government does not effectively accept and deal with the issue of Caste discrimination, the problem will grow unchecked.


The following recommendations are made to Government Department’s and representative organisations, in the context of the Government’s policies on
encouraging a more cohesive society and the increasing international interest in addressing caste-based discrimination:-

i. Government to provide legal protection against Caste discrimination for victims (or possible victims), we believe an amendment clause in the Equality Bill 2009 is the right vehicle;

ii. Department for Children, Schools and Families to provide guidance to statutory and voluntary organisations and Local Education Authorities (LEAs) for teachers in schools to improve their understanding and skills in recognising Caste-based bullying and discrimination.

iii. The Department for Work and Pensions, Confederation of British Industry (CBI), and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to ensure that companies operating in Britain do not inadvertently import Caste-based practices, and put monitoring in place to support all workers and members rights;

iv. The British Medical Association to review the Caste issue within its wider equality agenda for patients

v. The Equality and Human Rights Commission to commission an indepth academic study into the Caste system, Caste mobility and Caste discrimination in the UK, and to research the associated impacts on the health and well-being of victims of Caste discrimination.