Victory for Victim of Caste System Prejudice

A tribunal has recently ruled that an Indian domestic worker was a victim of caste discrimination. Permila Tirkey was born in India into a the low Adivasi caste, and was recruited by two higher caste Indians, Mr and Mrs Chandhok because of their belief in their inherent superiority and right to be served.

The tribunal heard how Ms. Tirkey was kept in appalling conditions amounting to slavery. She was expected to attend to the needs of the Chandhoks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and usually worked 18 hour shifts. Her bed was no more than a thin foam mattress on the floor of the children’s bedroom, and she was paid a meagre 11p per hour.

Her religious freedom was violated as she was not permitted to practice her Christian faith and she had no way to escape the situation as her passport was confiscated and her bank card was taken from her. She was essentially imprisoned for over 4 years.

The Chandhoks tried to argue against the tribunal by stating that their belief in caste was an issue of cultural importance and that caste was not protected under the Equality Act of 2010.

However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that caste discrimination may be penalised where it forms part of an individual’s ethnic origin. The religion thus ruled in favour of Chandhok on the basis of her being harassed on the pretext of race, unfair dismissal, breaches of the Working Time Directive, and breach of the Minimum Wage.

Chris Milsom the, barrister for Tirkey, said: “Those who have closely followed the legislative history of the Equality Act will recall that the government’s original rationale for refusing explicit prohibition of caste-based discrimination was that there was no evidence of it taking place in the UK.

“The damning findings of the employment tribunal render that stance untenable. Where such discrimination exists its victims must be protected.”

Ms. Turkiy was represented by the Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit, but worryingly had to endure a 17 month wait for representation due to the Legal Aid Agency claiming that the case was of insufficient ‘seriousness’ and because the defendant was simply ‘after money.’Eventually, Ms. Turkiy was awarded £184,000 in damages for unpaid work, although she will have other issues assessed at a later date.

Despite the ruling being in favour of the victim, the legality of the wider issue remains unresolved to the extent that there is no legislation in place to explicitly prohibit caste discrimination in UK law. The protection of victims under ‘ethnic discrimination’ may not be applicable to all future cases. Therefore, it would seem appropriate that potential future victims of this practice are protected by UK law, and equal rights campaigners will welcome any legislation that comes into being to protect the vulnerable in our egalitarian society.


Written By:

Daniel James


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