The snow on the ground attempts to convince us otherwise but we are now approaching the Spring of 2013. The Spring of 2013 marks 50 years from the start of the civil rights protests in the Deep South of the US. The protests, and in particular the police brutality with which they were met, led to the implementation of the US Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Given that 50 years have passed since the historic events of 1963, 2013 seems like an appropriate year to dedicate my first series of blogs to the sphere of discrimination.
The US Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the grounds of race in employment and other areas such as the right to vote. 1967 saw the introduction of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in the US which was designed to eradicate discrimination against the over 40's in the employment sphere.
It took the UK nearly 40 years to implement anti-age discrimination legislation, and even then, only in response to a European Directive. In 2013 we now have pretty much the same suite of protected characteristics as in the US, all contained under the Equality Act 2010 - namely age, race, sex, disability, religion or belief, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, gender reassignment and sexual orientation.
So, after 40 years of playing catch up resulting in a compilation of the various strands of discrimination law in the relatively recent Equality Act 2010, have we finally sorted ourselves out?
Well, no, not exactly. In the recent Tribunal Claim raised by Vijay and Amardeep Begrajthe, the couple claimed unfair dismissal, race discrimination and religion and belief discrimination against their former employer, a law firm in Coventry. The particular race discrimination claim raised was one of caste discrimination and it is understood to be the first case of its kind to be heard in the Employment Tribunal. The couple claimed that they had been discriminated against because he is from a lower Asian caste than she is. However, the Employment Tribunal collapsed in February 2013 and will be relisted.
In the meantime, the House of Lords and the House of Commons are also debating the issue of caste discrimination and its particular relationship with race discrimination. Both Houses accept that caste discrimination is widespread and hugely damaging within the communities it affects. However, the Lords and the Commons are presently in disagreement over whether or not the issue of caste discrimination should be addressed by way of education or legislation.
Fuelling this debate, the Government announced on 1 March 2013 that it has no intention of bringing into effect s9(5) of the Equality Act 2010. This section affords the Government the option to expand the definition of the protected characteristic of "race" to include "caste" for the purposes of race discrimination claims; and/or to identify particular types of discrimination claims which can or cannot be brought based on caste discrimination. The Lords, however, disagreed with the Government and on 4 March 2013 voted in favour of legislating in respect of this issue.
Whether the Government will legislate to address caste discrimination in the coming months, or focus its efforts on educating society on this particular aspect of race discrimination, remains to be seen.
Caste discrimination also brings into sharp focus the issue of class more generally.