Mainstream, VOL LIII No 24 New Delhi June 6, 2015
Caste in British General Elections 2015? What Rubbish!
Saturday 6 June 2015, by
Bogey of Religious Persecution
drove Voters of British Hindus to Conservative Fold
An English daily, published from many world capitals, broke the news with an unbelievable headline: “UK Election: Hindu Group Urges Support For Tories Over Caste Legislation, Sparks Controversy”.1 It said: “The Hindu caste system has emerged as a political issue in the final days leading up to the UK election Thursday, after a British Hindu group published a letter urging its supporters to vote for the Conservative party over its stance on legislation about caste discrimination.” The Dalits there “have been found to face discrimi-nation in education, employment and in obtaining public services, according to two government-commissioned reports”. A little probing into the nefarious roles of backdoor players in shaping public opinion in a particular direction is illuminating. Satish K. Sharma, the General Secretary, National Council of Hindu Temples (hereafter as NCHT), in a letter posted on website, said that the David Cameron-led party rejected an anti-caste legislation and whose members are committed to repealing the caste amendment, if re-elected. The body equated voting for the Conservative Party as a form of “dharma” and ‘adharma’—blasphemy to vote otherwise!
NCHT spearheaded the propaganda and attempted to rope in the Sikhs and Jains along with Hindus in the Conservative fold to garner votes. Registered as a charity organisation (Registration # 280718) in July 1978, NCHT has 200 Hindu temples under its umbrella. It drilled fear and distrust in the minds of its target groups by mischief-mongering: “British Hindus, Sikhs and Jains voting for Labour is now like turkeys voting for Christmas.......... The Tories are the only party which will not make caste discrimination a punishable offence.” This partisan political propaganda attracted adverse notice of the Charity Commissioner for breaching guidelines on non-partisan political campaigning. The Charity Commission booted out NCHT’s inflammatory letter from the website for support to David Cameron in the election as it went against its guidance.2
The Hindu community’s vocal opposition against inclusion of caste protections favouring British Dalits in the law, claiming that the issue was not applicable in the country is factually untenable. This is plain prevarication which is characteristic of many like NCHT’s office-bearers to admit the truth about the practice of caste discrimination and persecution. According to it, both the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats pledged that, if elected, they would immediately introduce legislation that would “effectively introduce a caste system here in the UK”.3 This is interesting. They resist reforms while finding others as scapegoats for their own sin.
The vicious presence of caste in the UK owes it to some of NCHT’s aims and objectives as follows:
• to support Hindu temples’ applications to be added to the Home Office Borders and Immigration Agency’s Register of Sponsors in order to approve individual priests’ visa applications to work in Hindu Places of Worship in the UK;
• to assist Hindu temples in their search to find appropriate and registered Hindu priests to work in their temples;
• to recommend and provide contact details of Hindu priests to conduct weddings, religious functions and ceremonies;
• to promote the advancement, achievements, consensus, cooperation and unity of Hindus in the UK.4
Besides five of the ten aims and objectives, NCHT further asserts: “Our main focus is to support the Temples of the UK, their Management Teams and their Employees in their work of helping Sanatan Dharma to flourish so that all the people of the UK have access to the oldest, and many have called it the wisest and deepest, religious and spiritual heritage that humans have ever perceived. Especially dear to our hearts is the sharing of our ancient Vidya with youngsters and helping the Temples to inspire their congregations to actively explore their Religion and Heritage.” The ancient Vidya that teaches caste-based entitlements spelt disaster for India.
Both the Hindu religion and heritage attach highest priority to caste. The religious texts throw glowing focus on caste privileges favouring some and hatred against others. We may note here that the University Grants Commission (UGC) introduced in 2000 “a degree course for the Hindu priesthood” to meet domestic needs of trained priests and export abroad, particularly in the UK and USA, where they are in demand by sizable Hindus. Its chairman believed that a “huge” job market waiting for trained Hindu priests abroad is a “golden opportunity” to “export Indian culture and earn foreign exchange”.5 Export of a large army of Hindu priests from India to the West has only infused longivity and/or inflexibility to the caste attitude and orthodoxy. Their culture would be in peril to see the demise of caste in their adopted home of the Western hemisphere. In passing, it is also noted that Indian Christians trained in priesthood are being exported in large numbers too.6 But they have not yet raised a storm in the media by joining and promoting pro-discrimination politics. We know the NRIs’ role in funding political activities to bring tectonic changes in Indian politics. They do so abroad too.
India’s tallest Mahatma, M.K. Gandhi, was a Sanatan Hindu who declared, without any tinge of embarrassment: “I believe that the division into verna is based on birth. Vernameans the determination of a man’s occupation before he is born. The objective of the vernasystem is to prevent competition, class struggle and class war. I believe in the vernasystem because it fixes the duties and occupations of persons.” The Mahatma nudged at the European countries, saying: “Those countries have not derived from the caste system the same degree of advantage which India has derived.”
Caste is, undeniably, a dirty reality of British social, economic and political life today. NCHT jumped to defend caste to perpetuate discrimi-nation with a sinister motive. The body’s ploy to drive voters to the Conservative Party sounds like a fatwa for the upper-caste Hindu against Labour and Liberal Democratic Parties for their liberal and uncompromising approach to caste.
UK Patronised Caste Haven
“Indian Caste System Imported To Britain?
Dalits Say Yes, Upper Caste Hindus Say No?”7
Caste has stealthily invaded England and proved Dr B. R. Ambedkar’s worst apprehension infallible. A century ago, he had observed “.............if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem.”8 England has 816,000 Hindus, of whom 450,00 are Dalits who face discrimination in their adopted home in the western hemisphere. People with conscience, enlighten-ment and respect for human dignity from all walks of life have joined anti-caste discrimi-nation campaigns which have specifically exposed upper-caste Hindus who carried the virus as a valued cultural baggage from their oriental home.
In April 2013 the House of Lords compelled the British Government to outlaw untouchability and caste-based discrimination through an amendment of Equality Act (EA) 2010. This was an extraordinary achievement. Prior to the amendment the government commissioned the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR)9 to investigate the incidence of caste discrimination and untouchability. The report of this body was damning to strengthen the anti-caste stance and justification. Queen Elizabeth assented to the amendment which upset the upper-caste Hindus. To defeat the amended provision, intense backdoor manipulations and manoeuvrings began. David Cameron shelved enforcement of the amendment till summer 2015 on the plea of wider consultations which annoyed the anti-caste campaigners who, besides Dalits, included British parliamentarians, political, social and human rights activists, academicians and international rights watch groups. The British Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) supported the demand to abolish caste discri-mination. The Hindus crossed swords with the EHRC and denied that there is any caste discrimination. Questions began to be asked loudly in the media: “Indian Caste System Imported To Britain? Dalits Say Yes, Upper Caste Hindus Say No?”10
The media exposed the hobnobbing between Cameron’s Conservative Government and the Alliance of Hindu Organisations for frustrating the new law. According to The Independent, “Landmark legislation to ban caste discrimination in Britain is being deliberately scuppered by the Conservative Equalities Ministers in charge of getting it on the statue book.” The objective of the new law, said the daily, was that “the estimated 400,000 Dalits—so-called ‘Untouchables’—who live in the UK would finally have legal protection from discrimination by other Hindus”.11 Be they at home or abroad, the upper castes are hateful to the Dalits. The UK is no exception. Discrimination against the untouchables is in their DNA.
Ms Helen Grant, Minister of Equalities, in a letter on May 9, 2013, now leaked, to the Alliance of Hindu Organisations (AHO) wrote: “I made no secret at our meeting—and nor do I now—of my disappointment that it has been necessary for the Government to concede to making an order to include caste as an element of race in the Equality Act 2010.” She explained: “We remain concerned that there is insufficient evidence of caste-based discrimination to require specific legislation. We also have concerns that incorporating caste into domestic law—even in the context of anti-discrimination—may send out the wrong signal that caste is somehow becoming a permanent feature of British society.” The Equalities Minister asked the Alliance of Hindu Organisations (AHO) “to submit evidence against the law to an ongoing consultation”. This drove widespread suspicion among the anti-caste campaigners that the Hindu evidence will get the upper hand with the Cameron Government. He had visited prominent Hindu temples and assured them of revocation of the anti-discrimination provision of the Equality Act 2010.
The equality campaigners felt that the Equalities Minister’s “letter appears to be a fishing exercise, designed to gather support for the view that the new legislation is not needed”. They also believed that the Equalities Minister has already “pre-judged” the consultation. The fate of the law seems and consultation is a sham. Indeed there could not be a tragedy to befall the Dalits that the Minister, whose responsibility and duty it was to place the law on the statute book, is hostile to it.
We may cite a similar ignoble episode from India: the Samajwadi Party had pressed Yashvir Singh, a washerman elected from Nagina parliamentary constituency (reserve for SCs) of Bijnour district, UP, who tore off “the 117th Constitution Amendment Bill on December 20, 2012 that would entitle the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe government employees for promotion in services” in Parliament.12 He was acting as a mindless hack for his party, opposed to Dalit and tribal empowerment and develop-ment. President Barak Obama and US First Lady Michelle Obama have been subjected to racial humiliation.13 The Africans receive far worse treatments across India. The underprivileged encounters humiliation and discrimination, and has no avenue open for redress in India.
Caste: a Crowning Glory of UK
This is the general perception about the Conservative Party. The quantum of donations of money determines the donor’s importance over the donee(s). In recent times Indian investments have increased phenomenally in the UK, leading to the creation of job opportunities there next only to the USA in 2014. Post-2015 general elections, the Indian clout has bloated in British politics. The Indian media has started claiming the UK NRIs as kingmakers.
Cameron’s inability to raise his finger at untouchability and caste discrimination on British soil is inexplicable and shameful. He is seen to embrace the cancer, which the Indian Constitution abolished in 1950. But elite India’s singular failure, nay, connivance has allowed caste to remain unscathed. In no branch of administration—from the police to the judiciary—they show any abomination against caste. The same inability has been demonstrated by Cameron. When opport-unity afforded itself for uprooting caste lock, stock and barrel, Cameron started caressing and nursing it. He has become a defender of caste, turning Britain into an altar of untouchability. In the comity of nations, Cameron will be heckled for patronising crime against human rights in the kingdom by his patronage to caste. Over a decade ago, the British Broadcasting Corporation had warned all concerned: “Caste has caused division and it does cause social devastation. The problem is that nobody has accepted the problem within this country (UK). Caste is one area which is totally swept under the carpet.”14This sentiment, articulated against caste, can rarely be questioned. It is a crowning glory of the UK.
The Englishmen fought wars, shed blood and made extreme sacrifices to establish an empire in India. In their long rule, there was hardly any admirers of caste. They had criticised caste in unequivocal terms. Strangely caste has not only colonised Britain, it has enamoured the ruling establishment, which has become its patron and defender. The Indians’ vice is a shining jewel in the western hemisphere. And David Cameron has qualified himself to be anointed by the Hindu as the eleventh avatar of the Hindu pantheon. Didn’t they write Allahopanishad to please Mughal Emperor Akbar?
1. The International Business Times, May 7, 2015. The daily in English, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Korean is published from Australia, China, India, Italy, Japan, the UK and US.
2. The Economic Times, May 7, 2015 news captioned “Hindu group made to remove Tory support letter in UK polls”.
3. The International Business Times,ibid.
5. The Times Higher Education, “Liberal attack priests’ degree”, August 11, 2000. http://www.timeshighereducation. co.uk/news/liberals-attack-priests-degree/152978.article
6. The New York Times, December 29, 2008, “India, an Exporter of Priests, May Keep Them”.
7. The International Business Times, London, July 12, 2013.
8. “Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development”, a paper presented by B. R. Ambedkar at an Anthropology Seminar taught by Dr A. A. Goldenweizer, Columbia University, May 9, 1916. Text first printed in Indian Antiquary Vol. XLI (May 1917) http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/txt_ambedkar_castes.html
9. Independent and oldest British research body established in 1938.
10. The International Business Times, London, July 12, 2013.
11. The Independent, July 11, 2013 news captioned “Tory ministers accused of reneging on pledge to end caste discrimination”. The daily is published from many countries.
12. A.K. Biswas, “Dalit and Tribal Representatives in Chains: A Gift of Joint Electorate”, Mainstream, Vol. LI, No. 16, April 6, 2013.
14. BBC Radio 4, “The Caste Divide”, April 2003.
A retired IAS officer and former Vice-Chancellor, B. R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar, the author can be contacted at biswasatulk@ gmail.com