Wednesday, April 16, 2014
A Human Rights based solution is the way forward to end caste discrimination : Santosh Dass
Ms Santosh Dass, MBE, Santosh was born in Punjab, India in 1959 and emigrated with her mother and brother to join her father in London in February 1968. Santosh is a former civil servant who took early voluntary retirement in 2012 after 30 years working in a number of Central Government Departments.
In 2007, Santosh was awarded an MBE for her contribution to better regulation at the Department of Health. She collected this from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace in the presence of her mother. Santosh spends her time working with a number of NGOs on human rights and equality issues in the UK and holds a Community Governor post at a school in London. She is the President of the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations, UK and the Vice Chair of the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance.
She has traveled extensively in Europe and the USA and makes regular visits to India In an interaction with Vidya Bhushan Rawat, she share her ideas and history of struggle for anti-caste legislation in Britain.
VB : When are we going to see the anti caste discrimination legislation passed by British Parliament becoming a reality ?
SD: It’s already been passed as part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. The law has yet however, to be implemented and brought into force.
This Government has indicated that the legislation will be introduced in Summer 2015 and brought into force in October 2015. So we are nearly there!
VB : How did it happen ?
SD: Intense lobbying, and domestic (NGOs including Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, Liberty , Parliamentarians, lawyers, and Government’s own Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and international (UN and European Commission) calls for legal protection for victims .
The lobbying was underpinned by numerous reports since 2008 – including those by the Dalit Solidarity Network UK, the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations, UK, the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance and academic studies. All provided evidence of Caste-based Discrimination (CBD) in the UK. These reports and studies also established that the CBD extended to beyond personal relationships only - contrary to views expressed by people opposing legal protection for CBD.
VB: I have read literature of Ambedkarites in Bedford and how they fought against discrimination and many of them have become hugely successful in business and other venture. It is sad that they had to face discrimination at different level and that too not through the hands of British but migrant Indians, the caste Hindus and Sikhs. Why have we not been able to leave our castes to our homes in India ?
SD: Caste continues to be part of the social fabric of many of the Asian Diaspora in the UK in varying degrees. There is a level of interest in ones descent and caste.
VB: The number of migrants from former British colonies to Britain is growing daily. I think the government here also promote the diversity in their services as well as private sector institutions. How much of this is implemented as far as Dalits are concern ? Is there any demand by the Ambedkarite or anti caste organisations in UK to provide representation to this huge segment at every sphere of life in UK including government and private services.
SD: There are affirmative targets for Ethnic Minorities (EMs) in the public sector already. This is consistent with other areas of Equality Law that helps address imbalances in the areas of for example, Gender, Disability etc. The EMs includes Dalits too. No specific demands have been made for the need to identify ones caste as part of the legislation. Groups from both sides of the argument in respect of the law on caste discrimination were clear that they do not wish to see caste institutionalised in the UK. All must be done to eradicate the discrimination that has been sadly imported to the UK.
VB: What kind of discrimination do Dalits face in United Kingdom ? Is there any agency documenting these incidents and acting on them ?
SD: It’s the same as other forms of discrimination and harassment. In the workplace (cases of holding up career progression, pay progression, harassament, exclusion etc), in provision of services (case of an elderly lady not getting her full care because of her caste, or a medical practioner (e.g. doctor or a nurse) not treating a Dalit fully or resisting examining them), and cases of bullying and harassment in schools and universities.
There are numerous examples included in the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance’s (ACDA) report “A Hidden Apartheid –Voice of the Community” 2009. Of the 300 responders in the ACDA report:
– 9% missed promotion at work
– 9% experienced verbal abuse
– 7% of under 12-year -olds faced threatening behaviour and 16% verbal abuse; 10% of perpetrators were teachers and 42% fellow pupils
– 58% had faced discrimination because of their Caste
- 80% said that police would not understand if CBD was reported to them
I don’t think there are any central government records. There will ofcourse be cases that go through the legal system and these will be well documented in due course.
VB: One of the biggest causes of violence against Dalits in India in the 'love marriages'. I would not call them 'inter caste' marriages as there is no possibility of inter-caste marriages in India. Love marriages or self arranged marriages transcends beyond boundaries. They challenge the power of 'parents' or society over two individuals who have decided to marry but that is the root cause of violence against them. I suppose the number of honour killing in UK too is growing and they are not just in the Islamic societies but also in these kinds of marriages where the partners hail from different castes ? Is there any particular law to deal with it apart from your 'Forced Marriage Law'.
SD: No UK laws other than those for honour killings or forced marriages
The law when implemented will not extend to personal relationships. Criminal law would deal with violence related to inter-caste marriage for example.
VB: Your own journey to United Kingdom was very hard. You have been bold in accepting the fact that there is a gender imbalance with in the movement too. I hope it is not too much a personal question to share with us your struggle as girl child from your parental family to your journey in UK.
SD: In my view, there has been a gender imbalance in the movement at the top. Things are improving though. I am a prime example of this – I am the Vice Chairman of the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, and the President of the Federation and Ambedkarite and Buddhist organisations in the UK. I have been working in this field for over twenty years. In the past year, in demonstrations on caste discrimination law, we have had many Indian women (young and old) fully participating.
VB: Did you face discrimination based on caste and colour in UK?.
SD: Yes. In employment when I worked with a predominately Asian workforce.
VB: How did you join the Civil Services in UK. What was the inspiration? Did you get support and encouragements from your near dear ones? Did you face discrimination based on caste?.
SD: Civil Service was seen as the next best thing to being a doctor/lawyer etc. I wanted to be an artist!.
I was inspired by the work of the Department now known as the Department of International Development (DFID). When I joined it was part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I really believed at the time that aid to developing countries was very important and I wanted to be a part of a department that had responsibility for it. It was my first ever interview for a job and I was very pleased to get selected.
Yes, my family were fully behind me. When I joined DFID I worked in a central Government Department. There were hardly any EMs there. I remember seeing only one Indian lady in the Department when I joined in 1979. She was very junior in the hierarchy. I did not face Caste discrimination in DFID.
I remained in the civil service until I took early voluntary retirement in 2012.
VB : You got a British honour which was definitely a proud moment. Why were you chosen for such a coveted award ?
SD: I was awarded a Medal of the British Empire (MBE). Prince Charles presented it to me in 1997. It was for services to Better Regulation and reducing red-tape at the Department of Health.
I did however, think long and hard about whether I should accept the award. This was because of the Honour system’s links to the days of the Empire. But my daughter persuaded me that I should accept it because she said it would help the movement.
It was a proud moment for my family and community. I took my mum and dear ones to Buckingham Palace to watch me receive the award. Mum always remembers that day as being one of the best days of her life. I think I was the first person from our community at to receive such an award. I may be wrong!
VB: You have been working with FABO and Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance and CasteWatchUK for several years. Could you elaborate about their activities and achievements.
SD: Too many to mention. It’s all team work. Getting Caste discrimination legislation on the Statute book is one. Helping strengthen the position of the community in the eyes of the establishment (international (UN) and domestic) and those organisations that have hitherto marginalised a community, is another achievement.
VB: International Humanist and Ethical Union ( IHEU) is organising second world conference against Untouchability in Nepal a few days later. First time, we will be celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti in Kathmandu with other humanist Dalit rights activists in other parts of the world. IHEU perceive a non religious political and human rights based solution for the whole untouchability question. What message would you like to give to the participants in this conference.
SD: In my view, a human rights based solution is the way forward.
Together with this, always striving to improve the capability of the organisation; agreeing achievable strategic goals at the outset with clear time lines for action and outputs; presenting evidenced- based submissions to those who can influence or are in positions of power; excellent and consistent communication messages; and securing grass roots support. Integrity of the organisation and individuals that form it are key.