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England – a Country with Royalty – Wants to Ban Indian Caste System

England – a Country with Royalty – Wants to Ban Indian Caste System

The rigid social stratification in India known as the caste system has brought some old and musty prejudices to the United Kingdom.

Oh wait — didn’t the U.K. already have old and musty rigid social stratification? You know, the earls and lords and dukes and barons or whatever it is fox hunters call each other over there, culminating in the Queen and her tabloid-fodder brood?

Nevertheless, a growing coalition of Brits wants to ban caste discrimination — the kind brown people practice against each other. There is no mention of abolishing the white nobility system the privileged have long used to keep other whites (and growing numbers of racial minorities) down. Apparently it is okay for the overwhelmingly white government to base membership in the House of Lords on the station of a person’s parents, but not okay for Indians to do the same to each other. Irony, anyone?

The hypocrisy beggared belief when the first arm of government to approve the anti-caste legislation turned out to be the House of Lords itself. It was like a proclamation: ‘only WE may discriminate based on ancestry. Everybody darker than ‘peach’ in the Crayola box must never believe themselves superior to anyone.’

To be fair, it’s true that the caste system is more insidious and damaging than a class system. According to an organization called CasteWatchUK, “Caste is determined by birth and cannot be changed. In a class based system there is ‘vertical mobility’ but this is denied in a Caste based system.”

Before I dig myself a bigger hole by pointing out everyone’s moral blindness, I’d like to take a station break here to announce that England is my favorite country outside of New York City (which might as well be its own country). I recognize that it is just as hard to pull oneself up by the boot straps in the U.S. as it is in the U.K. Just like the Brits, we over here on the western side of the pond are also prone to discriminating based on ancestry (although we measure primarily by financial assets, not whether a monarch gave your forebear a new name and a fairy-tale touch on the shoulders with a magical sword). End of station break.

Opponents of the proposed legislation argue that it is unnecessary because Indians do not discriminate against each other based on caste in the U.K. Apparently this contingent believes the trip from Southeast Asia to the United Kingdom washed away everyone’s caste and rendered them one big undifferentiated brown horde.

And maybe it did — in the eyes of white residents of Britain, who are unlikely to understand or care much about caste distinctions. But that doesn’t mean that those distinctions lost any vitality or importance to Indians. The BBC has found that the U.K. is home to caste-based discrimination (CBD), telling the story of a woman from a relatively low caste who routinely faces prejudice from other Indians in England.

Even the U.K. government acknowledges the occurrence of CBD. A spokesperson explained that the government opposed the proposed legislation banning CBD because it is not “the best way to tackle the incidents of caste-related prejudice and discrimination that have been identified.”

Speaking in favor of the legislation, a Labour spokesperson agreed that CBD is a problem in the U.K. “Studies confirm the caste system exists in the U.K., with over 850,000 people affected,” she said, “and the associated lack of caste mobility is inconsistent with moves to encourage a more cohesive society.” She called CBD a “known but hidden problem.”

It looks like the House of Commons will pass the ban and CBD will be officially outlawed in the U.K. But that is not the end of the battle: after passage comes enforcement. After all, India banned CBD in 1976, but it is still an everyday fact of life in many areas of the country.

Let’s see if musty old Britain is the right environment for killing off ancient systems of social stratification. Somehow I doubt it.

 

Related Stories:

Are We Living in a “Caste” Society?

In India, Women Killed for Relationships Outside Their Caste

God Help the Queen: A Monarchy Under Attack

 

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Photo credit: iStockphoto

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128 comments

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9:32AM PST on Jan 4, 2015

Well, Ms. Hoffman, you show a truly staggering level of ignorance about England, Britain, the United Kingdom (they're actually NOT all interchangeable terms for the same thing) & normal life on this side of the Atlantic, especially as you claim to be so fond of England. You appear to have taken your ideas of how we live from some second rate historical novel, either that or you watch far too much Downton Abbey (which, by the way, is fictional entertainment set in the past, not a reality show) Before making such a fool of yourself again, please learn a little about the way our country (or countries, if you're talking about more than just England) functions, & try to use up to date sources this time. Fox hunting has been illegal for years, & it's been a VERY long time since the country was actually run by the reigning monarch at the top of a pyramid of aristocracy. Until you're informed enough to know what you're talking about, your opinion is worthless.

8:14AM PST on Jan 4, 2015

"Britain is fiercely holding on to its ancient caste system." Most of us are not.

7:47AM PST on Jan 4, 2015

*NOTE* Have them removed!

7:42AM PST on Jan 4, 2015

It would be nice to have the Indian Caste system as well as privileges conveyed to the rich, famous, nobility, lords, etc., but I doubt it's going to happen.

7:28AM PST on Jan 4, 2015

Continuation

The British system of inequality created such a strong echo of India's caste system that I googled it. That's how I stumbled upon Hoffman's article. But guess what? Apparently, it was the British who turned the Indian notion of castes into a problem. It was the British who divided Indians by
only allowing persons from the upper castes into administrative jobs and senior appointments.

The modern western world has to call and keep calling upon Britain to abandon its ancient caste system of uppa and lowa classes, of people being seen as either having class or no class. Britain's poorest, including many chronically ill and disabled people who are unable to make a living on their own, are treated as “untouchables”, unworthy of life, of care, of legal rights, and even unworthy of consideration.


By the way, the political color of the government does not matter much in practice. Labour may even cling stronger to the class idea than the Conservatives do. Tony Blair (Labour) for instance did a lot of damage to the country with his scary ideas about children who would “only grow up to become hooligans” and should be taken away from their parents even before birth, if “necessary”. The LibDems mean well but try pleasing everyone else too hard and take their cues from Labour and the Conservatives.

7:26AM PST on Jan 4, 2015

Continuation

In fact, the British government has been so eagerly applying the idea that the poor are less worthy of life than the wealthy that a United Nations committee is currently looking into possible human rights violations of poor people with disabilities. The situation is bad.

To me, it looks like Britain's governments deliberately keep a large part of the population poor, trapped, ill-informed and dependent. This enables them to “milk” the poor in times of trouble to help balance the country's books, like the UK government is doing right now and continues to do. Most wages are low here, and many people depend on benefits just to get by. Cuts to those benefits improve the UK's financial situation without doing much or any damage to the well-to-do.

Just in case the poor might get any ideas and try to fight for their rights through legal action, legal aid is cut at the same time. Most newspapers are under control and often get a slap on the wrist when they publish about topics the government does not like, such as certain large demonstrations in London or about the use of food banks.

The British system of inequality created such a strong echo of India's caste system that I googled it. That's how I stumbled upon Hoffman's article. But guess what? Apparently, it was the British who turned the Indian notion of castes into a problem. It was the British who divided Indians by only allowing persons from the upper castes into administrative jobs and sen

7:23AM PST on Jan 4, 2015

Hoffman is right. Britain is fiercely holding on to its ancient caste system.

Like many Americans, Hoffman seems to misinterpret the royalty thing, but that is understandable as it must be such an alien concept to most Americans. My home country, the Netherlands, has royalty too; it is currently a kingdom as our queen abdicated a few years ago. Several other countries in Europe have royalty. There is nothing wrong with having royalty. It's like having a flag or a national anthem.

Hoffman's vision is very sharp, though, and I applaud her for it. Inequality is thoroughly bred into the British mindset and British royalty is at the top of Britain's social structure. Britons are subjects. Americans are citizens. Getting across to Britons that more equality would benefit everyone and create a much more positive living and working environment is very hard. Most Britons have never experienced a lot of equality. The country has had its rigid and utterly ridiculous class system for many centuries, and defensively clings to it.

The reason for that appears to be that Britain never had a revolution or some other development that affected the upper class and redistributed its castles, mansions, wealth, land and political power. That old class system sets the UK apart from the US, even though both countries have a similar level of inequality.

In fact, the British government has been so eagerly applying the idea that the poor are less worthy of life than the wealthy that a Uni

1:04AM PDT on Jun 10, 2014

I live in UK and have personally come across people of Indian Origin who practise caste system and Untouchability in UK. It is sad but does exist in UK.
Different caste people are not allowed to certain homes and jobs and marriages are based on caste, among Indians.
The sad thing is it still exists and results in the highest level of human sufferings and killings which is ongoing.

5:39AM PDT on Jun 9, 2013

i think what could be read between the lines is.....this is actually hurting many individuals on a daily basis....caste system etc are sucky,they always have been, they divide and separate people instead of embracing someone based on who THEY are as an individual!!! ridiculous sad but true, so ingrained into society for others blah blah blah geesh ruby do not be so quick to judge a writer holee smokes!!

9:42AM PDT on May 6, 2013

Indira Gandhi banned dowry's but they still exists and contribute to thousands of wife burnings every year.

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