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Last Updated: Friday, 21 December 2007, 17:57 GMT
British Hindus divided by caste
Naresh Puri
BBC News

A leading British Asian organisation is warning that men, women and children are being abused, attacked and spat at, because they are low caste Hindus regarded as impure and untouchable.

They are the victims of the 2,000-year-old Indian caste system which activists say is flourishing on the streets of Britain, even though it is banned in India.

Two low caste Hindu women
Low caste Hindus are treated differently

It is a form of social hierarchy and divided Hindus into four main categories; priests, warriors or ruling class, the merchants and then the unskilled labourers.

Below them were the untouchables, those people deemed so low that they could not be included in the system.

Two thousand years on, caste is an integral part of the Asian community, according to activists.

The country's first ever support group has been set up in Southall in West London to help victims of caste discrimination.

Everybody thinks caste discrimination only happens in India but it's happening on our streets, in fact it's flourishing
Shiv Gharu

"We have around 20 people a week coming to us, saying that they've been subjected to caste discrimination", said Eugene Culas, spokesman for the Voice of Dalit International, which is behind the Lottery-funded support group.

"We have children at school who are being bullied and mocked because they're from so-called low castes, we have discrimination in the workplace, where some Asians refuse to work with the low castes, and we even have violence".

Asian rapper Shiv Gharu has suffered since childhood because of his caste.

"When I was a child, I was taunted and abused and called slave boy and untouchable", he said.

"I was involved with a woman who was from a higher caste and her father would not even let me in their house.

"I was not accepted and when people from the higher castes found out about my relationship, I was beaten up, all because I'm from a low caste".

However, there are some Hindus who say caste discrimination is a thing of the past and here in Britain, the Asian community has moved on.

Ganesh statues
All Hindus, irrespective of caste, believe in Ganesh

"I deplore anybody who discriminates on a caste basis but I can say that it is not as widespread as these people are making out," said Rabindara Nath Pathak, from the Shri Ram Hindu temple in Southall.

"In my temple we sit together and pray together, irrespective of caste.

"No one is bothered about caste - yes, there may have been problems years back, but now we are moving forward and the so-called 'low castes' must do the same and forget about the past".

However Shiv has no doubts about the existence of caste discrimination.

He said: "I have suffered for so many years, I'm a British Asian and I can say it has really affected my life.

"Everybody thinks caste discrimination only happens in India but it's happening on our streets. In fact, it's flourishing".

The problem is so bad that one Asian marriage bureau has reported that some people from the so-called low castes have even changed their names, pretending to be higher castes.

In my temple we sit together and pray together, irrespective of caste
Rabindara Nath Pathak
Shri Ram Hindu temple

The main aim is to get a better match for their child.

Voice of Dalit international is now pushing to meet government officials in a bid to get caste included in race discrimination legislation.

Mr Culas said: "Society has to realise that many people are suffering because of a 2,000 year old Indian social hierarchy.

"Many high castes deny this is happening, but for people like us we know it's a huge part of Asian society and we have to fight against this injustice".

Country profile: India
08 Dec 07 |  Country profiles
India's fearless 'untouchable' paper
26 Aug 07 |  South Asia


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