Questions over the relationship between a British ‘Hindu fundamentalist’ charity and a Conservative member of parliament has led to the government’s own Charity Commission to open an investigation into the National Council of Hindu Temples.
Last week MP for Harrow East, Bob Blackman hosted and event with Indian Hindu-nationalist Tapan Ghosh at the Commons listed as ‘Tolerating the Intolerant’.
The Conservative MP heard Ghosh speaking in committee room 12, on using his ‘Hindu Defence Force’ to protect Hindu communities against Muslim violence. Ghosh has previously argued that the UN should ‘control the birth rate of Muslims around the world’ and that ‘backwardness’ is a ‘weapon’ of Islam.
Satish Sharma of the National Council of Hindu Temples (left) and MP for Harrow East, Bob Blackman (right)
Satish Sharma (left) and MP Bob Blackman (right) hosted an event at the Commons with Indian Hindu-nationalist Tapan Ghosh
Ghosh told the audience that his ‘Hindu Defence Force’ in West Bengal would help protect Hindu communities against Muslim violence, and that his anti-Muslim defence militia would be a ‘role model’ to the rest of the world.
A Charity Commission spokesman confirmed to Mail Online India on Friday afternoon: ‘The Commission has opened a case into the National Council of Hindu Temples (UK) to assess concerns raised regarding a speaker at an event linked to the charity.
Earlier this year the NCHT were warned by the Charity Commission for endorsing Theresa May in the run-up to the general elections for performing ‘abhishek’ (pouring water over the sacred image) at a Temple.
Blackman won the Dharma Rakshak Award for ‘strongly opposing caste discrimination legislation’ (pictured – Blackman’s own website)
The statement adds: ‘The Commission has previously issued the charity with regulatory advice and guidance regarding similar issues, which the Commission will consider as a part of the assessment.’
MP Blackman, who can be seen at the event wearing a saffron scarf and eating cake, is no stranger to the ambitions of the National Council of Hindu Temples, the organisers of this event and one of the UK’s most politically active charities working between Britain and India.
The key issue on which the relationship between the NCHT and Blackman has developed is caste discrimination.
Caste is an ancient Indian social hierarchy, described in a recent BBC documentary as ‘a defining feature of Hinduism’.
There are four caste categories (varnas) with brahmins (priests and teachers) at the top, followed by kshatriyas (rulers and soldiers), vaishyas (merchants and traders) and the shudras (labourers and artisans).
Blackman told the BBC Asian Network: ‘I will be quite clear. I don’t share those views. I have had a chance now to study the various different tweets and comments he has made (below) on social media and they are not ones I agree with’ Blackman (right) Ghosh and Sharma (left)
Beneath them all are the Dalits – so-called ‘Untouchables’ – who are completely excluded from society and who still suffer shocking cruelty from those above them in the hierarchy.
In India, violence committed against Dalits is so common it scarcely registers as news. Meena Varma director of the Dalit Solidarity Network describes ‘untouchability’ with an early case that ‘came across her desk’:
‘A Dalit family owned a plot of land. The man was told to hand over this plot of land, he refused. His wife and daughters were raped and their insides were removed. The sons were burnt and their heads chopped off and this was all purely because this man refused to give up his land.
‘It is considered OK to rape a Dalit woman because she is a Dalit. The women that survive and take their story to the police are then raped again. Impunity is rife, access to justice is minimal.’
In the UK, the NCHT has longed argued that all discrimination based on caste lines is insubstantial or fabricated, and that the current law should be removed from the statute books.
Sharma told the BBC, ‘Without even thinking about what it (caste) means, you automatically now gain the reaction ”dirty Hindus”, that we’re terrible and have savage ideals, that’s what’s automatically invoked whenever you mention caste. It’s not part of our culture.’
NCHT and other Hindu charities claim that ‘enshrining’ caste in UK law is hugely offensive and is an attack on their religion. Leaders from the 50,000 British Dalit community disagree, claiming that it is time to acknowledge years of discrimination.
The NCHT have previously listed events with former EDL leader Tommy Robinson
The link-up between Blackman and the NCHT has been fruitful for the charity and in 2015 they awarded him ‘the prestigious’ Dharma Rakshak Award, later describing him as, ‘having been an Indian in a past life, or destined to be one in a life to come’.
Blackman boasts on his own website that the award from the NCHT comes, ‘in recognition of work supporting the Dharmic community in strongly opposing caste discrimination legislation’ in Parliament.
Caste discrimination, described as an ‘invisible apartheid’ in Britain, has been moving towards a law since 2010 when the then Labour government brought in the Equality Act, and a law against caste discrimination was first discussed.
Labour did not add caste to the definition of race but made provisions for a future government to add it at a later date after collecting more evidence.
After the evidence was collected the then Coalition government in 2013 brought in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act that changed the power to create a law altered to a ‘duty’.
The ‘duty’ acknowledged caste discrimination in Britain today, and sought to protect those identified as ‘lower’ in the hierarchy.
So since 2013 it has been the ‘duty’ of the government to make caste an aspect of the protected characteristic of ‘race’.
Fighting caste law
However, stakeholders on both sides of the argument believe that we have reached a deadlock.
In 2014 Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Women and Equalities, Helen Grant, seemed to suggest that the next stage of feasibility research had petered out as it, ‘might be intrusive and damaging to community relations’.
It is the opinion of two stakeholders in the debate on caste discrimination that the issue is now being ‘pushed into the long grass’ after the most recent Government consultation finished on 18 September 2017.
Blackman wants to remove caste discrimination from UK law
Dr Prakash Shah, from Queen Mary University of London, argues, ‘The NCHT has acquired the position of being the leading voice for reasons that are not widely known.
‘Satish Sharma, its General Secretary, is close to the Tory party which also does not want the legislation.’
Shah says that the May government has used the most recent public consultation on caste (that finished on 18th September, results not yet released) as a choice between legislation and case law.
He describes this as a ‘fix’ to bury the issue by passing the buck to British courts.
Shah told Mail Online India, ‘During the government’s recent consultation, Satish Sharma took the Tory government’s position that the case law should be retained but the legislation not implemented.
‘We know that figures within the Tory party have tended to promote him as the spokesperson for the anti-caste legislation movement on behalf of the Hindus.
‘The government not only does not want the legislation, but it can also gain some electoral benefits by claiming that it got rid of the caste law.
‘The conclusion is predictable. It is not a true consultation, but a fix.’
Sat Pal Muman of CasteWatch UK stands on the other side of the caste debate from Prakash Shah, but confirms his belief that the NCHT and the Conservatives are, ‘working together to push the issue into the long grass’.
‘Repealing this law will need a draft order, it will have to go through both the Lords and the Commons before this piece of legislation is removed.
‘The opposition to this law is now working to delay it by saying, ”just let case law develop’.’
Breakthrough in the courts?
In September 2015 an employment tribunal ruled in the case of a woman recruited from India to be a domestic servant for a family in the UK and paid 11p an hour.
The case was heralded as a breakthrough and proof that there should be no further delay to the ‘statutory prohibition of caste discrimination’.
Permila Tirkey, 39, was forced to work 18-hour days, having been recruited because her employers wanted someone who didn’t understand UK employment law and who would be ‘servile’.
Hundreds protest against atrocities on Dalits outside India House
For the first time in the UK, caste was accepted as an aspect of race. The victim, who had lived life as a ‘slave’ for so many years simply because she was from a lower caste in India, was awarded £184,000 in unpaid wages.
The hearing was told Ms Tirkey was kept by Pooja and Ajay Chandhok in Milton Keynes for four and a half years. During this time she worked an 18-hour day, seven days a week and slept on a foam mattress on the floor.
The Chandhok family prevented her from bringing her Bible to the UK and going to church. Her passport was held by the Chandhoks and she had no access to it. She spent seven days a week cooking and cleaning for the couple, and helping them raise their children.
The tribunal found the conditions in which she was forced to live and work were a ‘clear violation of her dignity’, upholding claims that she was harassed on the grounds of her race, and was the victim of indirect religious discrimination.
Ms Tirkey’s solicitor Victoria Marks, from the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit, told the BBC: ‘This is a very useful judgement for victims of modern day slavery’.
The victim’s barrister, Mr Milsom, of Cloisters, said ‘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’, adding that the tribunal’s ‘damning findings’ had left the government’s stance on caste discrimination ‘untenable’.
Caste discrimination in Britain today
Despite the Tirkey case and a significant pile of costly academic research that shows how caste discrimination affects schooling, marriages, community harmony, personal faith, and free-and-fair business practices in the UK, the Conservative government remains silent on the issue.
This silence has encouraged charities like the NCHT who say that cases of caste discrimination in the UK stem from the ‘Hinduphobic’ agenda of those pushing for caste legislation.
Mail Online asked MP Bob Blackman how he had arrived at his position on caste discrimination after he tweeted on 11th October, ‘Delighted to co-host #AhimsaDay @HouseofCommons this evening & address need for action to remove #CasteDiscrimination from statute book’.
Mail Online has asked for Bob Blackman’s thoughts on the government and non-government commissioned research into caste discrimination, and why Blackman has now positioned himself alongside the NCHT?
Despite repeated requests for comment Blackman has refused to return call, emails and Tweets.
When asked why, as a part of the Indian diaspora, they feel that a law intended to protect a discriminated-upon community should be removed, the NCHT’s sent across a published document titled – ‘Caste, Conversion and a ‘Thoroughly Colonial Conspiracy’.
The document in question which was released at the Indian High Commission by Subramanian Swamy – a senior figure in the BJP leadership – states that the caste system in India and Britain is a ‘creation and imposition of white Anglican Colonialism missionaries’.
The NCHT tweeting about the Pope’s ‘mania for conversion’
NCHT argue that ‘Anglican jihadis’ found a soft spot in India’s caste system, ‘ripe for the stab of a supremacist evangelist’s missionary thrust’.
According to the NCHT, India’s caste system was created by, ‘the Anglican Jihadis of the British Raj, with their headquarters in Lambeth Palace, blessed by the Archbishop and Bishops of the time’.
The NCHT claim that Anglican Jihadis, ‘created the caste system as an intrinsic element of their 19th-century census activities and colonialist, evangelical mission.’
And on the issue of a UK law to protect those at the bottom of the hierarchy from discrimination the NCHT claim, ‘The Church of England is responsible and to be held accountable for the creation of the caste ideology and for trying to impose it yet again on Hindu citizens of Great Britain’.
The NCHT’s stance that Britain ‘invented’ caste and once again wants to impose it on the Hindu citizens of Great Britain is not one shared by the victims of caste discrimination.
Sat Pal Muman, from CasteWatch UK sees the NCHT argument as a ‘blatant deflection tactic’.
He argues that Britain began to understand caste after the 1911 census whereas Hindu religious texts on caste date back many thousands of years.
‘Britain is not guilty of inventing caste’, Muman says that as, ‘Great tax collectors, if they’re guilty of anything it’s enumerating it.’
An Indian Dalit man Mauasi Ram , 55, who was attacked by a group of people while returning from a rally, recovers at a government hospital in New Delhi, India
He adds, ‘Did the British invent ‘untouchability’? No. Caste discrimination existed a long time before the British arrived in India’.
Muman had previously told the BBC, ‘Why the Hindus (NCHT) feel so victimised is beyond my imagination. They have to see the truth for what it is, you have to call a spade a spade.
‘If you are unable to face the historical truth then you will never be able to resolve this issue.’
Muman identifies ‘Satish Sharma as one of the authors responsible for the ‘Caste, Conversion’ report and adds, ‘these are guys who have had very successful lives in this country, and are now turning around to blame the British for the very thing they themselves and their forefathers were responsible for’.
Munam sees this as a larger political game helped by ‘the arrival of Hindutva – Hindu Fundamentalism – in India’.
He argues that when groups liked the NCHT, ‘challenge Britain on caste discrimination and colonialism, they are seeking support from this rising fundamentalism in India’.
Muman says, ‘the leading groups in India are against all foreigners, but especially the British’.
‘What Satish has done is to write something that appeals to India. And he believes that by doing that he will get closer to that particular lobby and even to be a spokesperson for them.’
Muman says that CasteWatch UK ‘wants nothing to do with religious texts’ and, ‘is happy for all reference to religion to be removed from the Equality Act.
He adds, ‘no one in India or the UK can go back and re-write their religious texts and so they see this scrutiny as an attack on their religion’.
Muman’s view is supported by a number of leading academics.
Dr Meena Dhanda from the University of Wolverhampton argues that, ‘those driving the opposition to the law want to abort the whole thing by saying that they are the true victims’.
‘By saying, ”it is our religion that is being attacked by Britain, in Britain” they can rely on most people not wanting to be seen on the same side as those supposedly attacking’.
Dr Annapurna Waughray from Manchester Metropolitan University adds that the complete reliance on this supposed insult is merely a ‘blanket denial’ of caste discrimination in any form.
Waughray says that the government and the NCHT, ‘have not produced a single shred of evidence to show that the experiences, the testimonies and the accounts of people who have suffered from discrimination are false, malicious, untrue, or malign’.
Using trade to hurt Britain
So how have we arrived at a position in 2017 where the ‘duty’ to protect those discriminated against is being questioned?
In short, there remains a fear that, ‘enshrining caste in British law,’ could affect Theresa May’s attempts to forge trade relationships with Commonwealth countries, namely India.
Unlike the Conservatives, the NCHT are more than willing to announce the terms on which they are able to leverage government support to oppose the law on caste discrimination.
Prime Minister Theresa May at the Sri Someshwara Hindu temple on the final day of a three-day trade mission to India
The PM went to India at the head of a business delegation with the aim of bringing down barriers to commerce and paving the way for a free trade agreement following Brexit
At last week’s event in the Commons committee room, NCHT’s Satish Sharma stood alongside Bob Blackman and argued that the European Union’s opinion on caste, ‘doesn’t acknowledge the oldest living religious tradition on the planet,’ and wants to, ‘spend time, energy and resources on alleged disputes that go on in our community without evidence’.
Sharma then says, rather chillingly, ‘I will suggest that we speak really slowly for the camera so that we can share this with the Indian Government’, adding, ‘in this moment in time when the whole world wants to do business with India we have this particular issue (caste) and an opportunity.
‘We should be saying to them, if you want to do business with the grassroots Hindu, the grassroots Sikh, the grassroots (business) community in our country, then at least do us the courtesy of recognising that we are not the infidel, heathen, pagan, unwashed, natives, which your religious institutions have been telling you about.
‘We want our people in Britain, we want British people, and we want European people to have a mutual respect so that they can do trade.
‘But if they’re not even willing to accept our religious traditions then why on earth should we engage in business with people who are so discriminatory and so prejudiced?’
Satish Sharma says that there should be no trade relationship between India and Britain while a law that disrupts the ‘religious traditions’ is still on the statute books.
Caste censorship at leading London University
The fear of offending influential Indians by mentioning caste has allegedly reached Britain’s top academic institutions.
On the 24th November this year Dr Meena Dhanda was booked to speak at the London School of Economics at an event hosted by the South Asia Centre to commemorate the 350th Anniversary of Sikh Guru Shri Guru Gobind Singhji.
Dr Dhanda had been invited to talk on, according to the LSE’s website, ‘the challenge of confronting caste-based oppression’ at the event jointly organised by the LSE and the High Commission of India in London.
Before and after, above and below: The event was listed and then cancelled
‘After reading my abstract the High Commission of India became worried that if contentious issues of caste prejudice are raised some people may be upset’, Dhanda says.
‘I did not want to change my argument’.
‘LSE sympathised with me and they decided to cancel the lecture, but have not publically stated why they have done so’.
Mail Online India has requested a comment from the LSE South Asia Centre on why the event was cancelled.
Caste, community, confusion
As the issue of caste discrimination in the UK remains in deadlock, David Mosse, from SOAS, told Mail Online that regardless of what kind of discrimination exists – whether it’s race, gender, sexuality – it is always the case that those who are fighting against discrimination need to be able to name the basis of their discrimination to get it out there in the open.
The majority of contributors to this article say that caste discrimination needs to be discussed openly, without the influence of an MP and a charity currently under investigation for hosting the now contentious event at the Commons.
Although a law would not protect against all forms of discrimination, there is a general concern that caste is becoming more deeply entrenched in the UK as India continues its rise as a global economic force.