Campaigners who have spent years fighting to break down the cultural and political divides between Asian communities in the capital finally have evidence their labours are about to bear fruit. This week the Government revealed it is willing to take steps to ban caste discrimination, which is prevalent in Indian society, to allow people from all backgrounds to find homes, work or even love. AIDAN JONES explores the issues

TWENTY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD Seema is a banker, and Jat.

Sikh Sapna is the same age, works in customer services and is Hindu Brahmin.

Harry, a 30-year-old Sikh computer professional, is Ramgharia.

All are from London, all are looking for love on the popular match-making website and all give prominence to their high caste on their profiles; Jat and Ramgharia for the Sikh pair and Brahmin for the Hindu, Sapna.

While they do not explicitly rule out meeting people of lower castes, the inference is clear to those from South Asian backgrounds attuned to the complex social layering of the caste system.

Officially banned in India since 1976, the caste hierarchy is - according to campaigners against caste discrimination - very much alive across London and other parts of the country with settled South Asian communities.

"Caste isn't just an Indian phenomenon, it's a London phenomenon too," says VJ George from the Voice of Dalits International (VoDI) which represents the Dalit 'untouchables' rooted to the bottom of the caste hierarchy.

"It's something perpetuated wherever there is a South Asian population of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians. These communities subscribe to caste wherever they move to."

The results, VoDI says, can devastate people from the estimated 50,000-strong Dalit community in the UK.

Little official research has been commissioned but each week around 20 people visit VoDI's office in Greenford to complain of discrimination; being over-looked for jobs, abused in the street, taunted at school or even banned from homes because of their status.

CasteWatch UK has compiled a dossier of examples of caste discrimination ranging from arguments and violence as the result of cross-caste relationships, to complaints about the number of Bhangra songs about Jat (landed caste) pride played on London radio stations.

But while racism is outlawed, caste discrimination is yet to make it on to the statute book.

Campaigners accuse influential Hindu organisations of playing down the issue and starving oxygen from debate on the subject.

Others including the Bishop of Fulham, the Right Reverend John Broadhurst, say injustices propagated among religions often escape scrutiny.

Speaking at an inter-faith conference on the issue on Wednesday he said: "Caste discrimination needs to be talked about, but it's tricky because it touches on inter-faith relationships.

"It is a problem which turns Dalits into non-people, it dehumanises them which is a deeply offensive concept which must be addressed."

There is a political strand to the debate with Christian Dalits in India vying for power with the Hindu establishment.

Back here the tide could be set to turn.

The Government is considering inserting a clause outlawing caste discrimination in the Single Equalities Bill, set to ban discrimination on lines of race, age, gender, disability, religion or sexual orientation.

Last week it agreed to scrutinise the issue after years of campaigning from VoDI, CasteWatch UK and Ealing and Southall MP, Virendra Sharma - who is outspoken on the topic.

Mr Sharma has warned of the problem intensifying with the more recent influx of Indian migrants to the UK and the increasing number of Indian companies moving to the country.

In a recent interview with an Indian newspaper he said caste sensibilities are elemental to the estimated 3.5million South Asians living in the UK.

"There are no exceptions; people try to make it into a Hindu issue, but it is not, " he added. "Whether you are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or Sikh, if you have come from the sub-continent you will have caste built into your social fabric."