Thursday, August 18, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Indian couple who lost their law firm jobs due to 'forbidden love' at centre of first caste discrimination tribunal

Indian couple who lost their law firm jobs due to 'forbidden love' at
centre of first caste discrimination tribunal

Home Secretary Theresa May considering whether to add the ancient
Indian class system to British equality law

By Andy Dolan

Last updated at 9:20 PM on 17th August 2011

An Indian couple who met at a legal firm have become the first in
Britain to claim 'caste' discrimination, saying they were forced from
their jobs following their marriage.

An employment tribunal was told that solicitor Amardeep Begraj, 33,
was from a higher caste than her husband Vijay, 32, the practice

He belonged to the Dalits, formerly known as the Untouchables because
of the nature of their work in roles such as cleaning, pest control or
scavenging, and the lowest class of people according to the ancient
Indian caste system.
Hand in hand: Amardeep Begraj and her husband Vijay are pictured
outside the tribunal in Birmingham

Mrs Begraj has told the tribunal that a senior colleague warned her
against marrying Mr Begraj because people of his caste were 'different
creatures', while he was told his position at the firm was

The case throws a spotlight on how the hereditary caste system, for
centuries used to categorise people according to occupation or social
standing in India, has gained a foothold in a contemporary Britain
where five per cent of the population originates from the

Dating back to at least 1500BC there are dozens of different castes
based on race and religion, with most of these represented across

Despite being outlawed in the Indian constitution during the last
decade, experts say it is increasingly becoming a source of identity
for young people today.
Children at a rural Dalit school in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh

Children at a rural Dalit school in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh

For example Britain's hugely popular banghra music scene was created
by Jats, who were originally rural people who composed this type of
music to celebrate the harvest in India.

While the Brahmins, generally considered the highest caste because
they were the most educated, hold meetings and group events so people
can meet and marry.

Home Secretary Theresa May is considering whether to add protection to
those discriminated because of their caste to existing safeguards
governing race, sex, religion and sexuality in British equality law.

Five Law Lords last year inserted a clause into the Single Equalities
Act, passed just before the election, giving the Government power to
forbid caste discrimination.

But the issue was then referred for public consultation and the
Coalition is now considering responses.

Mrs Begraj, a Sikh, belongs to the Jat caste, an agrarian people from
the Punjab. She and her husband met when both worked at Coventry-based
solicitors Heer Manak and began dating four years later.

Mrs Begraj told the Birmingham tribunal she was warned by a senior
colleague. 'He said I should reconsider the step I was taking of
marrying Vijay because people of his caste were different creatures.
Marriage would be very different from dating. Vijay was told a number
of times that his position had been compromised for entering into a
relationship with me.'

She also claimed that her workload increased and secretarial support
was reduced 'as a punishment', and she was paid less than colleagues.

The couple married at a Gurdwara, or Sikh temple, in Leamington Spa,
Warwickshire, three years ago, when a colleague raised a toast to 'Jat
girls going down the drain'.

When the couple had their first child, the firm did not send flowers,
although this was standard practice.

Mr Begraj, who worked as a practice manager for the firm for seven
years, was sacked last year. His wife resigned in January.

Last year the couple briefed a committee of the House of Lords, which
swayed them to insert the clause in the legislation recognising caste
discrimination. A subsequent newspaper story led to the couple's car
windscreen being smashed.

The tribunal will also rule on whether they were discriminated against
on grounds of religion or race. Mr Begraj is claiming wrongful
dismissal and his wife is claiming unfair constructive dismissal.

The firm's management are said to consider the couple's claims outrageous.

The tribunal continues.


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