The British Caste Conundrum



Comedian Paul Sinha found out he was from the Brahmin caste only when he asked his parents when he was 12, after a history lesson at school.

It hadn't figured in his life at all to that point.

His parents had emigrated to the UK from Bengal to further his father's career as a doctor.

Paul later became a doctor himself, but gave it up to become a standup.

This is how Paul puts it himself: "I'm British born and grew up in a fairly middle class suburban South London background and frankly 'caste' was something of which I was only vaguely aware.

At the outset of making this programme my view, like yours I'd imagine, was that caste is a relatively outdated system of prejudices which may have significance in certain parts of India, but is largely irrelevant in modern Britain.

But that isn't the case.

In the course of making this programme I've met British Asians who feel that they are being discriminated against because they are Untouchables, or Dalits, as they refer to themselves."

In this programme Paul meets British Untouchables (so lowly that they are not officially a caste) who claim they are being discriminated against in their daily lives.

He also interviews Hilary Metcalfe whose report into the caste system in the UK for the National Institute of Economic and Social Research found anecdotal evidence of discrimination based on caste.

The NIESR report was commissioned by the government to inform its deliberations over whether or not to make discrimination on the grounds of caste an offence under the Equality Act.

As yet they have not made up their minds.

He also meets Hindu and Sikh leaders who feel strongly that caste discrimination can be dealt with as an internal matter within their communities and no legislation is needed.

Producer: David Morley

A Perfectly Normal production for BBC Radio 4.