‘Social Distancing’ before COVID-19: Interrogating the Universalisation of Caste-Based Discrimination and Its Horizontality in Race

58 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2020

See all articles by Surendra Kumar

Surendra Kumar

Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University

Date Written: July 20, 2020


Caste has always infiltrated the public life and has been a constant social identifier. Caste has moved beyond occupation to social function. Two hundred million of India's lowest castes have been subjugated to consistent discrimination. In this context, lakhs of Dalits have been forced to do manual scavenging, which is an egregious form of caste-based discrimination in labour. It is discrimination based on descent and is symptomatic of institutionalised social, legal, political and structural barriers. The contours of caste cross national borders as diasporic communities in the United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US) have shown direct signs of caste prejudices, thereby making it a global concern. There have been debates in the past whether caste can be correlated with other forms of discriminations, such as those based on race in countries like the UK and US. However, the result has been a long list of contested literature. In this paper, I argue that redressal of caste-based discrimination requires concerted international efforts by different countries, and a dialogue with the jurisprudential aspect of anti-racism agenda may add as a strong imperative against caste-based discrimination. Using the case studies of Safai Karamchari Andolan v Union of India (2014), Tirkey v Chandhok (2015) in the UK and ongoing Cisco case in the US (2020), the universalism of caste is emphasised upon and how it poses novel challenges for the equality regime. Recognition of caste as an aspect of the race on analogous ground of inherited unequal status would be a step forward towards the realisation of substantive equality. The experience of caste in India and the United Kingdom would be useful to understand caste in international law normatively and descriptively. I argue that while caste and race are conceptually different, they are axiomatic manifestations of an analogous system of inherited status. I propose that the interpretation of race as an entity subsuming discrimination arising out of caste will help nudge the governments to address it systematically and with full force beyond semantic sophistry in both India as well as United Kingdom.

Keywords: caste, race, caste-based discrimination, racial discrimination, international human rights law, discrimination law, manual scavenging, internationalisation of caste

JEL Classification: K33, K40, K31

Suggested Citation

Kumar, Surendra, ‘Social Distancing’ before COVID-19: Interrogating the Universalisation of Caste-Based Discrimination and Its Horizontality in Race (July 20, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3656151 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3656151

Surendra Kumar (Contact Author)

Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University ( email )

Sonipat Narela Road, Near Jagdishpur Village
Delhi NCR
Sonipat, DE Delhi NCR 131001

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