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Academic sparks change in law on discrimination

Published: 14th May 2013

A LEGAL expert from Manchester Metropolitan University is helping politicians from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords push through an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 that would change lives by making caste discrimination illegal.

Manchester School of Law academic Annapurna Waughray's knowledge is so prized by minsters that she has received calls at all hours asking for her advice on the amendment.

Annapurna is a specialist in the area of caste discrimination, and it was an article by her, published in 2009, that gave impetus to a study by the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA) designed to convince the government this was a real issue.

Now she is giving her expertise to politicians and Dalit organisations in the critical period leading up to the amendment of the Equality Act 2010.

Government U-turn

There are approximately 150,000 people of Dalit origin (the so-called ‘Untouchables’) living in the UK.

In a survey carried out by ACDA, 58% of those asked who identified themselves as Dalits said they believed they had been discriminated against because of their caste, while 79% said they did not think the police would take them seriously if they tried to report a caste-related hate crime.

In a U-turn on their previous position, the government announced at the end of last month that they would allow an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill outlawing caste discrimination to become law.

The amendment had twice been voted through by the House of Lords, but initially MPs overturned the bid, saying that there were concerns in Hindu and Sikh communities that legislation could increase existing prejudice.

"Untwisting the mind"

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill became an Act of Parliament on 25 April 2013. It requires government to amend the Equality Act 2010 to prohibit caste discrimination. Under the Equality Act, caste will be treated as an aspect of race once the wording of the amendment is agreed.

Annapurna’s paper, “Caste Discrimination: A Twenty-First Century Challenge for UK Discrimination Law?” was published by the Modern Law Review in March 2009.

The paper argued that rather than being an insignificant issue, caste discrimination was hidden because of the reluctance of victims to come forward, lack of knowledge and understanding of the problem on the part of wider society, and a fear of unintended political consequences.

She concluded that “while legislation alone cannot ‘untwist the mind’, it can act as a disincentive to discriminatory behaviour, challenge the cultural consensus and provide legal redress for discrimination.”