Oppression of lower caste servants is rampant in India and is spreading overseas. Here we describe examples in Australia and the UK.
In Australia, Bhanu Adhikari, a retired public servant and former ombudsman for the Bhutanese-Australian Association of South Australia, has lodged Australia’s first legal complaint of discrimination on the basis of caste, in the Equal Opportunity Commission of South Australia. Mr Adhikari, a Hindu, was given refuge in 2008 Australia after experiencing discrimination in Buddhist-dominated Bhutan.
“The reason they discriminated against me is not because I am lower caste,” he says. “In fact, I am high caste and almost equal to them. But because I don’t discriminate against others – I and my children eat with whoever we like to eat with, of all castes – the reason why they discriminate against me is because I associate with people of lower caste.”
In the UK, in 2015, Permila Tirkey, who had been recruited from the poor, caste-ridden Indian state of Bihar to work in the UK, was awarded £184,000 in that country’s first caste discrimination case. She was paid as little as 11p an hour, and kept in domestic servitude by her employers in Milton Keynes, forced to work as their cleaner and nanny. Tirkey’s family are Adivasi people who are dark skinned, poor and of low caste. They describe themselves as being from the “servant class” comprising of Hindus and Christians.
“Her employers, Ajay and Pooja Chandhok, both originally Hindus, were found by an employment tribunal to have made her work for 18 hours a day, seven days a week.”
“Tirkey, a Christian, was required to sleep on a mattress on the floor, prevented from bringing her bible to the UK, not allowed to contact her family and given a bank account which was controlled by her employers. Her ordeal lasted four and a half years. Reacting to the judgment, Tirkey said: “I want the public to know what happened to me as it must not happen to anyone else. The stress and anxiety that this sort of thing creates for a person can destroy them. I have not been able to smile because my life had been destroyed. Now I am able to smile again. Now I am free.”
The tribunal found that the Chandhoks went to India to recruit Tirkey because “they wanted someone who would be not merely of service but servile”. They did not seek to recruit someone resident in the UK “because no such person would have accepted the intended conditions of work”.
The Legal Aid Agency initially refused to fund her representation for 17 months on the grounds that her case was not of “sufficient importance or seriousness”, and that it was “only a claim for money”.
Colin Butler (with help from Dr Ajay Niranjane), February 2017