In a major victory to 4 lakh dalits in the UK, a bill that will outlaw discrimination on the basis of caste in Britain has received royal assent from the Queen.
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill made history in Parliament this week when the House of Commons bowed to reassure from the House of Lords to include caste as an aspect of race as part of the Equality Act 2010.
"Very strong views have been expressed in the Lords on this matter and we have reconsidered our position and agreed to introduce caste-related legislation," Equalities Minister Jo Swinson told the Commons on Tuesday, marking a major government U-turn on the issue.
The bill has now cleared its final journey to become law with the Queen's consent yesterday. This makes the UK the first country outside South Asia to legislate against caste discrimination.
In a major parliamentary stand-off, the House of Lords voted twice for legal protection to be given to four lakh dalits living in the UK.
Commons MPs had overturned the first Lords vote, but after the peers again backed the proposals after a third reading, the government was forced to re-think.
Both Houses need to agree to the exact wording of the bill and Business Secretary Vince Cable tabled an amendment in the Commons to accommodate the peers' views, stating that caste would in future be treated as "an aspect of race".
"This is a major victory for us. The government has had to go with the voice of the victims of caste prejudice," said Caste Watch UK general-secretary Davinder Prasad, who has been spearheading a campaign in favour of caste-based discrimination to be included in the UK’s equality laws.
"Too many British citizens have suffered caste-based discrimination and this legislation now offers hope to the tens of thousands of British Asians whose lives are blighted by such prejudice. This is a victory for the Lords and their emphasis on protecting Human Rights," added Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society.