What is Caste discrimination?
The Employment Appeals Tribunal recently held that although caste discrimination is not expressly stated as a protected characteristic in terms of the Equality Act, it may amount to discrimination. The term ‘caste’ is an Indian concept and is used to identify a number of different concepts. Primarily it is a social network made up of varying levels of class. A person’s class in the network is often hereditary and dependent on their forefathers rank, occupation, economic position etc. Government figures estimate that there are between 50,000 and 200,000 people in the UK who are declared to be part of the lowest caste. Caste discrimination occurs when people are treated less favourably by people of a different caste, often simply because they were born into a group of ‘lower social standing’.
The Equality Act provides protection for nine separate protected characteristics. These are:
- gender reassignment,
- marriage and civil partnership,
- pregnancy and maternity,
- sexual orientation,
- religion or belief and
If a person is treated differently for any reason outwith these nine protected characteristics, then they cannot technically raise a claim for discrimination. There has however been a recent trend in extending the scope of these characteristics. It was decided that it was possible to be discriminated against on the grounds of obesity. Now the potential for discrimination has been extended further to possibly include caste discrimination.
Under the Equality Act, race can include colour, nationality, ethnic origins or national origins. It was held by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case Chandhok v Tirkey that although caste is not specified as a protected characteristic, elements of caste identity may form part of someone’s ethnic origins. This would particularly be the case if their caste identity was hereditary or contained an identifiable ethnic identity. Whether someone’s caste identity will qualify for discrimination will be decided on the individual facts before a tribunal. In the past however ‘ethnic origins’ has been given a wide meaning, making it more likely for caste identity to be protected by the Equality Act.
Although cases in which caste discrimination will qualify as direct discrimination will be decided on a case by case basis, depending on whether the identity is hereditary or not, we would err on the side of caution.
Beware that although caste discrimination is not strictly covered by the Equality Act, it may still be held to be discrimination.
Be aware of any potential claims in your company and encourage people to use your grievance procedures, where appropriate.
Be fair when you receive any grievances from employees. Train your managers to treat each grievance seriously and reasonably.