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UK's Equality Act
  By UCAN  
  NEW DELHI (UCAN) --Christian and dalit groups say that a new British law, which equates caste discrimination with racism and thus punishable, would help fight caste prejudices worldwide.

"We need to welcome it," says Father Cosmon Arokiaraj, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops’ office for people belonging to poor castes and tribes. He said the British move would help outlaw caste discrimination.

The Equality Act 2010, which the House of Lords passed on March 24, aims to place discrimination based on disability, sex, race and other grounds under one piece of legislation.

The act that treats caste discrimination as an aspect of racism will become a law in the United Kingdom when the House of Commons passes it.

Father Arokiaraj said the law will help "internationalize" the issue of caste discrimination suffered by millions of socially and economically underprivileged Indians for generations.

Indian society is divided into four major castes and all those born outside these are regarded as outcastes and "untouchables." These groups are together called dalit (oppressed). Although outlawed, Indian villages continue to discriminate against dalit people.

In 2002, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) called all member states of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), including India and the UK, to enact laws aiming to end descent-based discrimination.

"Punish those who practice discrimination"

India maintains that caste is not a form of racial discrimination and has been successful in keeping caste out of the resolution adopted at the 2001 Durban conference on racism.

All India Catholic Union secretary John Dayal said caste discrimination should be considered "as bad as" racism and "people who practice it should be punished."

He said his organization is "quite happy with the British move. We have been camping for this in the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination," he said.

Dayal said that the Indian government is resisting the move because of "the hold of the upper caste" in the government. He said they know "how seriously they would be affected by international condemnation of caste."

Dalit leaders say although caste discrimination is predominately a South Asian social phenomenon, millions suffer its adverse effects because there are more dalit people than those with caste.

Udit Raj, who heads a confederation of dalit and tribal organizations, said he also "supports" the new British law. "It has been our long standing demand," he said.
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