The Government has announced that it will outlaw caste-based discrimination by amending the Equality Act 2010, reports the BBC.
The House of Lords has twice previously backed proposals to outlaw discrimination against over 400,000 ‘untouchables’ of Hindu and Sikh faith that live in the UK.
The House of Commons previously overturned the Lord’s vote and the Government had vowed to oppose any further move to protect the untouchables again. However, on Monday the coalition said that after careful consideration they had decided to back the policy.
The announcement of the U-turn came on Monday, when Business Secretary Vince Cable said that the Equality Act 2010 would be interpreted so that caste discrimination would be included as an aspect of racial discrimination.
Campaigners who support the legislation welcomed the announcement, saying that it would help to protect hundreds of thousands of UK citizens who are subjected to abuse and prejudice because they are considered part of a lower social caste.
The caste system determines that those born to families of a lower caste, known as untouchables, should only be permitted to perform low paid, menial jobs. The system also demands that they look up to those from higher castes.
Keith Porthous-Wood works for the National Secular Society.
“We are delighted that the Government has accepted that discrimination against caste should enjoy the same statutory protection as all other forms of protected characteristics,” he told the BBC.
The Government had previously argued against legislation, saying that education was all that was needed to combat the problem and fearing that new laws might serve to further stigmatise those affected.
The Government has also asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to study caste discrimination and to recommend further measures to help improve the situation. The Commission is set to report its findings later this year.
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