UK

Woman awarded £184k in 'first caste discrimination' case

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A woman recruited from India to be a domestic servant for a family in the UK and paid 11p an hour has been awarded almost £184,000 in unpaid wages.

Permila Tirkey, 39, was discriminated against because of her "low caste", her lawyers said, describing it as the first successful case of its kind.

She worked 18-hour days, having been recruited because her employers wanted someone "servile", a tribunal heard.

The employment tribunal upheld a number of claims against her employers.

Ms Tirkey's barrister Chris Milsom said she could now receive a substantial amount in compensation.

'Violation of dignity'

He said the case represented a legal landmark because caste was considered an aspect of race by the tribunal. Caste is a hereditary division rooted in Hindu society, based on factors such as wealth, rank or occupation.

"Effectively, she was ill-treated because of her inherited status," said Mr Milsom.

The hearing, in Cambridge, was told Ms Tirkey worked for Pooja and Ajay Chandhok in Milton Keynes for four and a half years, during which time:

  • She worked an 18-hour day, seven days a week
  • She slept on a foam mattress on the floor
  • She was prevented 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 was not allowed to call her family
  • She was given second-hand clothing instead of choosing her own clothes

She cooked and cleaned for the couple, as well as looking after their children.

The tribunal found the conditions in which she was forced to live and work was a "clear violation of her dignity", adding "it created an atmosphere of degradation which was offensive".

It upheld several claims, including that she was harassed on the grounds of her race, subjected to unacceptable working conditions and was the victim of indirect religious discrimination.

'Now I am free'

Ms 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 heard Ms Tirkey was recruited from Bihar in eastern India in 2008 because her employers wanted "someone who would be not merely of service but servile, who would not be aware of United Kingdom employment rights".

It concluded Ms Tirkey, who could not speak English, was considered "ideal" by the family because of her position as a member of the Adivasi caste, described as the lowest class in the "caste pyramid". She described herself as being from the "servant class".

The tribunal found "the claimant was acceptable to the respondents as their domestic servant, not because of her skills but because she was, by birth, by virtue of her inherited position in society, and by virtue of her upbringing... a person whose expectations in life were no higher than to be a domestic servant".

No-one based in the UK would have accepted the conditions of work, it concluded.

'Damning findings'

Ms Tirkey ended up leaving the Chandhoks after a row, in which the couple gave her an ultimatum to stay or go, the hearing found. A charity found her emergency accommodation.

Mr and Mrs Chandhok have been ordered to pay £183,773, to make up the total she should have been paid if she had received the national minimum wage.

Ms Tirkey's solicitor Victoria Marks, from the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit, said: "This is a very useful judgement for victims of modern day slavery.

"We hope that it will give other victims the courage to come forward and seek redress."

Her 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".

He said the tribunal's "damning findings" had left that stance "untenable", adding: "Where such discrimination exists its victims must be protected."

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