Woman awarded £184,000 in UK’s first caste discrimination case

Permila Tirkey, from Bihar in India, was paid as little as 11p an hour and was forced to work 18 hour days by her employers

A woman recruited from India to work in Britain and paid as little as 11p an hour has been awarded nearly £184,000 compensation in one of the UK’s first claims of caste discrimination.

Permila Tirkey, from Bihar – one of India’s poorest states – was kept in domestic servitude by her employers in Milton Keynes and 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”.

Victoria Marks, the claimant’s solicitor from the Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit, said: “This is a very useful judgment for victims of modern day slavery. We hope that it will give other victims the courage to come forward and seek redress.

It is important that traffickers do not act with impunity and that they see that their victims can and will hold them to account.”

Tirkey’s barrister, Chris Milsom of Cloisters, said: “Permila Tirkey is a remarkable woman and deserves enormous credit for her patience and stoicism at a time when she was brandished dishonest by those who held her in servitude for four long years.

Those who have closely followed the legislative history of the Equality Act will recall that 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.

The damning findings of the employment tribunal render that stance untenable. Where such discrimination exists its victims must be protected.”

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