National Hindu Students Forum (UK)

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CASTE WATCH UK targets South Asian population with ambiguous data and terminology

By Anuja Punj Prashar


The target group for CASTE WATCH UK (founded in 2004) is the population group labeled as South Asians. Although they appear to target all South Asians their focused emphasis is upon the Hindu religion and those of Indian origin. The website tells us that “Caste is associated primarily with cultures of the Indian sub-continent” and the stated aim for the organisation is “to raise awareness of Caste discrimination in the United Kingdom and to strive for appropriate legal, social and democratic remedies”.

Quoted in the Economic Times,12th May 2009, South Hall member of Parliament and supporter of CASTE WATCH UK, Mr Virender Sharma has stated that “caste-based thinking is "built into the social fabric" of the estimated 3.5 million South Asians living in Britain. Sharma says it is all the more important to bring in legislation on caste because of "fears" that the increasing number of private Indian companies now setting up in Britain may inadvertently import caste-based practices. "There are more and more Indian companies coming here and they are bringing in senior managers who are in a position to recruit - that's where the problem can arise. That's where the fear is”. Mr. Sharma’s statement is divisive and pointedly targets people of Indian origin in global businesses. Sharma is assuming that those of Indian origin will be unprofessional and bigoted because they are Indian..

According to Mr. Lakha, ex-mayor of Coventry and co-founder of CASTE WATCH UK, while speaking at the CASTE WATCH UK conference in March 2009 stated, “No matter where the Indian Culture exists, the problem of caste exists. Hindus are no different from those who support the BNP. It is the concept of power struggle by using the concept of superiority and inferiority on the basis of birth, race and religious inheritance which is a problem.” Mr. Lakha’s accusation, that all Hindus hold values similar to the BNP, is highly inflammatory and inciting religious hatred.

The conflation of concepts of Caste, South Asian and Hindu is very misleading and often deceptive. The interests of CASTE WATCH UK is for those they name Dalits, who are active in missionary activity for conversions to Christianity. CASTE WATCH UK tells us “It works alone and in partnership with a number of academic institutions, politicians, community groups and organisations promoting the rights of those who are victims of caste discrimination in the UK, including the Dalit Solidarity Network (UK) and Voice of Dalit International to tackle Caste based Discrimination in the UK”. Both Dalit Solidarity Network and Dalit International are Christian organisations supported by the globally acclaimed organisation, Christian Aid. I have written extensively on this subject elsewhere, including a piece titled, “Creation of Caste Wars” in Asian Voice, 2008.

The statistical table below, of Census Data for the South Asian population of the UK, shows that the populations of Indian origin have achieved a great level of integration into UK society, with levels of education, employment and economic success above the national average. These statistics demonstrate that migration to the UK of those of Indian origin has been a positive factor for the economy of the UK. This information also contradicts the new erroneous racialised discourses being expressed by CASTE WATCH UK. Therefore, we now need to hold a serious and honest debate to expose the underlying networked connections of race, faith and economics.

The CASTE WATCH UK website tells us that “Caste discrimination in the UK can be seen in temples, schools, places of higher education, community centers, social clubs, places of employment and services in the UK where people from Indian and Pakistani Diaspora are working, resulting in caste based bullying, leading to inferiority complex and low self esteem in victims. This maltreatment prevents victims from achieving their full potential and making their due contribution to British society”. The confusion and ambiguity of the use of terminology on the CASTE WATCH UK website is indeed perplexing. There are three glaring and obvious errors which highlight the superficial nature of the accusation of Caste discrimination.

On the website we are told that the word ‘caste’ is a Portuguese term meaning “pure stock” and not an Indian word. This is correct and we should now alos understand that the whole concept of Caste and it’s associated system of signification and conceptual framework is not Indian or Hindu. It is an Orientalist discourse of Hinduism, constructed in the English language and originating from Europe during the early 17th century. Secondly, the explanation on the CASTE WATCH UK website of “Varna” (the Sanskrit word for social roles in ancient Indian society) to indicate ‘colour’ is incorrect. The “Varna’ system of signification and it’s associated conceptual framework is a philosophical paradigm based upon a metaphysical discourse of the universe, and reflects the meanings of ‘merit’ or ‘quality’ according to a specific Vedic epistemology in the Sanskrit language. Thirdly, the extremely simplistic historical explanation of the ‘mingling’ of Races, across the Indian sub continent, leading to the establishment of a hierarchy of castes in ancient Indian society is completely baseless and essentially a myth that helps support the Orientalist discourse of Hinduism as understood by the west.

Despite these obvious errors and deceptive confusions, CASTE WATCH UK has managed to influence UK members of Parliament and even some European Union representatives. The conflation of the term South Asian, Indian with the term Hindu is very deceptive. The real target for all this political activity is the economically successful and socially well integrated Hindu population of the UK.