The government has decided not to include ‘caste’ as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010. Does this mean that caste discrimination goes unprotected?
In 2016, the disturbing case of Tirkey v Chandok brought this issue into the public eye. An Indian woman’s mistreatment at the hands of her employers was likened to modern slavery. Her treatment was due to her low hereditary caste. She brought her case under the existing provisions of the Equality Act. The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that ‘ethnic origin’ had a wide definition. It could include characteristics determined by descent, such as caste.
In 2017 a government consultation began to look at how best to protect against caste discrimination. The report was produced in July 2018. Caste will not become a protected characteristic. There would be difficulties in defining ‘caste’. Drafted too narrowly it would not protect those who need it most. Drafted too broadly it might provide unintended protection to people whose treatment may relate to social class (between people of the same caste), rather than caste. Instead, the law will develop on a case by case basis.
There are relatively few cases of caste discrimination that come before the courts. The government felt that people can bring a caste discrimination claim under the existing provisions of the Equality Act. Caste discrimination should not go unprotected, but the feeling is that the existing legal provisions are adequate.
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