Caste Discrimination: Hindu Council UK Puts the Record Straight

via Press Release published on February 14, 2008

The Hindu Council UK (HCUK) has today released a revealing report on varnashram or the caste system, a subject HCUK says is much misunderstood by the British media, politicians and the public. “Caste has been the subject of ill-informed comment for too long,” says HCUK General Secretary Anil Bhanot. “Today, we are putting the record straight. We are also naming and shaming those who spread misinformation about Hinduism and its relationship to caste in an ill-disguised attempt to vilify the Hindu people and cause division within our community.”

The result of several months research by Dr Raj Pandit Sharma, a member of the HCUK’s Executive, the report lifts the lid on rarely-heard Hindu perspectives on a subject assumed by most non-Hindus to be always a gross form of unjust discrimination, an alleged feature of Hinduism so maligned it justifies attempts by Christians to convert Hindus here in the UK, in India, and elsewhere.

While the report acknowledges and condemns the fact that abuse of varnashram continues in India, despite an official ban on caste discrimination and the introduction of positive discrimination policies to emancipate lower castes, in particular Dalits, or ‘untouchables,’ it questions the existence of caste discrimination in the UK, saying no one should be fooled by groups making allegations of such discrimination who are seeking Government legislation and Government funds to tackle this supposed problem.

Mr Bhanot argues in his Foreword to the report that MPs such as Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) and Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), who are lobbying the Department of Communities and Local Government to legislate against caste discrimination may have been “misled by Christian groups who want, quite simply, to ‘save’ people from the ‘falsehood’ of Hinduism and convert people to Christianity. In other words, groups who are themselves practising prejudice and discrimination, by condemning the beliefs of those who do not follow their religion. “

This view is shared by UK Dalits. In a Statement prepared for inclusion in HCUK’s report, the Shiri Guru Valmik Sabha in Southall, London, says: “We resent having the word Dalit ascribed to us by the British media and Christian missionary organisations.” The Executive adds that organisations professing to tackle caste discrimination in fact “help create further divisions in our society.” The community admits there are problems with attitudes in the older generation, but believes inter-caste marriages and the opportunities Britain affords to all are changing this lingering prejudice and will finally eradicate it.

In particular, the detailed HCUK report challenges assumptions about caste and the claims made by organisations such as CasteWatch UK and the Dalit Solidarity Network UK, concluding that contrary to their assertions and popular belief, caste, as described in the Hindu scriptures, is not determined by birth. Neither, says the report, is the notion of caste exclusive to the Hindu religion or to Indian culture.

The report also traces the spiritual and historical roots of Caste, concluding they lie ultimately in the Indian people’s need for spiritual and cultural protection in the face of numerous invasions and foreign rulers, most significantly by the Portuguese and the British Raj, who then perverted the system to their own ends.

“It was the British who single-handedly formulated the caste schedules that remain in place today,” writes Dr Raj Pandit Sharma in his report. “The evils manifest in the current form of the caste system can not be ascribed to the Hindu faith. The current adulteration of the Hindu varnashram system is a direct result of generations of British Colonial bureaucracy.”

The report includes quotations from Hindu scripture in support of the concept of egalitarianism and cites many sacred texts – respected and venerated by people of all castes – that were written by ‘Dalits,’ or ‘outcastes,’ proving that in Hinduism, caste was never intended to be hereditary; that no one is ‘high’ or ‘low’ by birth.

The report also highlights the hypocrisy of those who would criticise caste in India while ignoring Britain’s own social divisions. “There are now record levels of homeless people in the UK, who are analogous with the outcastes of Indian society,” writes Dr Sharma. He also questions the labelling of caste as analogous to apartheid:

“This comparison is as ridiculous as it is untrue, especially given the fact these barbaric systems were born under the shadow of slavery or indentured labour, based on the colour of one’s skin, and actually conceived and perpetrated by Europeans, not Hindus.”

“It is no joke to have to ward off concerted misinformation campaigns from UK parliamentarians who really ought to know better,” says Anil Bhanot, in his Foreword to the document, but states he has gone through the difficult process in the hope it will alert the wider British public to the underhand and prejudicial tactics carried out by anti-caste propagandists.

Click here to download The HCUK Report

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