CasteWatchUK and Amitabh Bachchan on BBC Asian Network

Many of you may have heard about a new Hindi film called Aarakshan, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone and Manoj Bajpai. Directed by Prakah Jha, the film is a socio-political drama based on the controversial policies of caste based reservations in government jobs and educational institutions.

Listen to CasteWatchUK and Amitabh Bachchan talk about the film and the issues it raises in this interview on BBC Asian Network:

Here is Reena Jaisiah’s review of the film:

“Last night I went to see Aarakshan. Bear in mind I am not a huge Bollywood follower so watching this film was a painful experience. I am pleasantly surprised at the Bollywood industry on tackling this issue though it was masqueraded by operatic emotive overtones and an assault to the ear drums with songs. This film successfully highlighted the socio-political struggles of India’s caste system with central focus on India’s Reservation system in education. It does indeed support the reservation system in India as there is too much disparity if there was not such a system in place. The cinema was virtually empty but it is the month of Ramadan and the other variable is that the Asian are not interested in facing issues like this and would rather see the superficial farce of glitz and glamour in Bollywood films – one of the main reasons why I avoid these kind of films as I go behind this you see,  

To keep it concise the film portrays the struggle of a college Principle’s (Amitabh Bachan)  passion for teaching children from the schedules castes subtitled ‘Backwards caste’ in the movie! The Principle is politically pushed out. Tensions in the college break out between students of the SC whom stand to gain entry into colleges because of the quota system and the higher castes who now have to contend with the reservation policy in spite of otherwise being comparatively more merit-worthy. The film did depict the counter effects of the reservations systems which supports the view that the ‘higher castes’ fall victim to discrimination. It also highlighted India’s dark realty higher caste tyranny. There was some powerful language and eloquent messages in the dialogue which was elating but not thought salubrious.  The most poignant scene in this movie was the opening scene of a job applicant (Saif Ali Khan) being ridiculed by questions into his mother background completely evading questions into the applicants skills. I do believe also a reference was made (the only reference in the entire movie) to Ambedkar though his name had no mention! However there were many scenes that had images of Ghandi of course.  The film shows the bitter journey of how obstacles come in the way of the Dalit community/ SC in their educational and career pursuits and how Indian society throws a wall in front of them and they fight. I am glad this issue was highlighted.  There was also a soppy love plot where caste conspires against love.  The film closed with a predictable happy gooey ending with no room for thought.  Go and see for yourself if only to support the message.”

UK Riots

The raging riots of last week have brought shame, disgust and a cauldron of bitterness to the streets of Britain. Morale has been at its lowest for years, and communities and lives have been destroyed by riots. However, a positive has come out of this. The PM, David Cameron, said the riots have brought out “some of the best of Britain’.  We couldn’t agree more when pictures of the British Asian community illuminate and exemplify such graciousness in much needed times.
The Sikh community in Southall took a peaceful stance in protecting their Gurdwara and their local community irrespective of race and religion. Their message was simple equality!
The Malaysian student being insidiously helped during his attack but robbed in the process wants to stay in the UK and feels no hatred for his attackers.  Again another example of Asian diligence!
What about the Islamic community and Sikh community united in the heart of the trouble? This has bought communities closer and inspired people around the UK to do the same.
This is time to restore and celebrate our heritage and the good that we contribute to our country and continue to set a great example and inspire others to do the same. It is evident that British Asians are an important part of this country and want to integrate.
A special tribute to the three young men, whom we refer to as true soldiers, who were brutally killed in a hit-and-run while protecting their country. Haroon Jahan, 21 and brothers Shezad Ali, 30 and Abdul Musavir 31. What amazes us is the dignity of Tariq Jahan, Haroon’s father, whom whilst going through so much grief and pain speaks words of peace ann pacification. Instead of being belligerent, his no name and blame manner is just dividend and testament to the beliefs of a true Muslim.

WOMEN on Top! Mirror Madness!



Following the success of our production of ‘Midnight Bluebells Ring Out Loudly’ during International Women’s Week, Kairos WWT and Caste Away Arts’s collaborative project – Women on Top have done it again!

‘Mirror Madness’ was performed on Friday 29th July, 2011 to a packed and lively audience. This absurd piece was devised by Women on TOP inspired by the women’s own inanimate objects being sprung to life in writing workshops led by writing workshop leader Jen Bakewell! Mirror Madness is a fantasy tale of bitter revenge and unrequited love! There are a few bad songs (actually they were fab), magic spells, twins who are poles apart, a bird and filthy mirror. Does this make any sense? Well it’s not supposed to its theatre of the absurd!

This show was so uplifting and inspiring despite having just under a week to get it all together. A huge well-done to everyone involved, the cast, the volunteers and project workers!  A reaped performance is on the cards and more exciting project that celebrates the voices of women in theatre. A massive thank you to Kairos WWT who have accommodated and produced this project and allowed it to flourish to the success it has become. This is what you get when women unite and work together.  WOMEN ON TOP!

Reena Jaisiah

Women On Top Take Two!

Yes we are back on top! The Women on Top project all kicked off this week but this time it’s tougher than ever! Due to popularity and demand after the first success we decided to create Take Two and stretch these women a little further. This project will run over an intensive week workshop.   

Do these ladies have what it takes to devise a piece of theatre based on object stimulus? The heat on and the pressure is… What pressure? they only have a week to write, devise and PERFORM…

CasteWatchUK Conference on 2nd July 2011

As an going campaign to root out caste based discrimination from British Society, CasteWatchUK is holding a conference “Caste & Equality Act 2010 – Next Steps” on Saturday 2nd July in Coventry. This conference aims to consider “Equality Act 2010 & Next Steps” so that British Society can continue to provide a free environment for its to live their lives with pride & dignity and basic human rights of all the British Citizens continue to get protection from British Law.

Please email if you wish to attend.

The God of Small Things

It’s been a while since we posted anything on here but we have been busy as usual and will post more info about future projects soon.

Meanwhile, this is a great video about caste prejudices in India, with clips from the film “Swades” starring Shah Rukh Khan and the book “The God of Small Things”. It also features a great classic Gurdaas Maan track. Please watch it.

Successful Seminar in Manchester

Sorry for the delay in posting this. Last Friday we spoke at a seminar on Dalit Cultural production in the UK which took place at Manchester Met University. All the speakers were really interesting. Annapurna Waughray, Senior Lecturer at MMU School of Law gave an excellent introduction into the making caste discrimination illegal in this country. Poet Daljit Khankhana talked about the ideas behind his poems, his passion for figting caste discrimination really came out. Meena Varma, Director of Dalit Solidarity Network UK, gave an incredibly eye opening talk about the way caste still affects peoples lives in India. She showed a film called “I’m A Dalit, How Are You?”, it was uncomfortable viewing and exposed the plight of Dalit women in India and how many still clean human waste for a living. Also it showed the hypocrisy of some higher caste men who think Dalits are dirty and will avoid physical contact with them, but think nothing of sexually abusing Dalit girls. We want to help and it’s on our agenda for the future. There is so much still to do to ger rid of this social evil, caste discrimination. One step at a time.

Caste Away Arts at Manchester Met Uni…come join us!

Caste Away Arts are heading up north on 1st April for a seminar on Dalit Cultural production in the UK in the context of political and legal activism. We will be talking about our play The Fifth Cup and our other work.  We will also be taking part in a podium dsicussion about our work. Below is a programme of the day and who to get in touch with if you want to come: 

Programme:       1-1.10 pm            Welcome and introduction: Annapurna Waughray, Senior Lecturer, MMU School of

                                                                Law and Nicole Thiara, Associate Lecturer in English at MMU

1.10-1.35              The international struggle against caste discrimination: Meena Varma, Director, Dalit Solidarity Network UK

1.35-2pm             The Equality Act 2010 and the inclusion of caste in UK discrimination law: Annapurna Waughray

2-2.45                    Daljit Khankhana talks about his work as a Dalit poet, film-maker and human rights activist. He is the author of the collections of poetry A Symbol of Unity, A Chapter of Life, A Fresh Touch and Two Different Angles.

3-3.30                    Rena Dipti Annobil and Reena Jaisiah talk about their play The Fifth Cup and their work for Caste Away Arts, the artistic wing of the charity CastewatchUK. The Fifth Cup, addressing the issues of caste and caste discrimination in the UK, was funded by the Arts Council and performed last year in a tour of arts venues across the UK.

3.30-4.30              Podium discussion: Daljit Khankhana, Rena Dipti Annobil and Reena Jaisiah in conversation with Annapurna Waughray, Nicole Thiara and Meena Varma

Admission is free. For further information, please contact Nicole Thiara at

Sunday saw the launch of a new website – – it’s a forum to explore and discuss world issues such as development, governance, conflict or human rights related, or more simply the issues that affect many of us day in, day out. This can include topics and issues which we hadn’t realised before or which perhaps main-stream media is overlooking.

Caste Away Arts is supporting this great new website, it’s about time we stopped relying on mainstream media to form our opinions. We have written an article for the site called “Different Shades of Brown”. This article explores the age-old issue of skin colour in the Indian sub-continent and discusses how it relates to caste discimination and other cultural factors. Please visit the website to read our article and leave comments.

Creative Enrichment Programme: RELEASE UK

Release UK met Coventry DJ and youth worker Asha Banton who spoke about growing up in a children's home and the racism he faced.

Release UK is a community arts club that comprises of young people enjoying the enrichments of a bespoke programme held every weekend at Barrs Hill School. Release UK’s workshops centre on youth led Drama, Citizenship, Assertiveness Training, Elocutions and studying popular British culture as a means of integration. Release UK is run at The Tamil Welfare Associations (TWA) weekend Arts and Academic school in the Midlands. TWA are proud to celebrate their Tamil heritage by teaching Tamil, Bharatanatyam classical dance, traditional Music and various Key stage subjects in the Tamil medium. Though this school educates some very academically gifted students, social skills often lag behind leaving youth lacking in confidence and unable to integrate like their counterparts. After holding a meeting with the TWA there was a strong desire from youth to peruse their creative calling and to embrace their British identity as well as their Tamil heritage.

The majority of the youth’s family fled Sri Lanka to evade war. There are young people however from the Indian subcontinent too but are all British citizens. Reena Jaisiah recently visited Sri Lanka and devoted time to war and tsunami affected orphans. In Sri Lanka Reena wanted to give something back; rather than throw money on the situation, but to improve the lives of those disaffected through arts. Reena’s experience in Sri Lanka left a lasting impression and Release UK is a continuation of the Caste Away Arts philosophy.  This programme is designed to build social bridges and improve learning through creativity and more importantly the youth are in a safe and conducive environment free from judgement and ridicule that they may face in school and society. This truly enables growth!  Release UK has proven to be a huge success and numbers are increasing each week and a second programme is the pipeline. Release UK are always looking for volunteers and workshops facilitators to offer something new. Please contact us on

Quotes from the Release UK members:

Rajan Kajda – age 14 – a young volunteer

Volunteering has made me realise I have a lot of give and I feel more confident  

Niveetha –  age 10

I love drama because it helps me understand life. Reena is a good leader and makes the sessions fun.

Ilakkiya-  age 7

I love drama it gives me energy!

Leshanth  – age 10

Release UK is brilliant! I like the game where you give everyone complements, it makes you feel positive. One thing I have learnt that it’s ok to make mistakes because if you don’t then you never learn.  

Muoortha  – age 10

It’s really good and these sessions help you respect one another.

Anupriya – age 13

The sessions provide everyone with a different perspective on life and we learn how to make ourselves heard. It’s a rare opportunity to talk about issues that we don’t usually get to talk about and we also learn professional drama skills. It’s amazing.

Caste Discrimination in Great Britain

Caste discrimination does exist in British Asian communities!…this is something that Caste Away Arts were well aware of but new government commisioned research has found evidence of caste discrimination at work and in education. This could be a step towards caste discrimation becoming illegal in Great Britain. Read more on CasteWatchUK’s website –

Also listen to the BBC Asian Network report on this issues, it features Caste Away Arts’ Reena Jaisiah and Davinder Prasad from CasteWatchUK. Here’s the link:

Rena A

The Diwali drama project was a success!

A retelling of the story of Diwali through drama and dance was performed by a selection of students from Holly Lodge School, Smethwick. This project was commissioned by Sandwell Leisure Trust and the workshops facilitated by Caste Away Arts. Reena Jaisiah and Vimla Prasad fronted the project with the aid of volunteers Ravinder Karra and Christian Sadler. This intensive half term project was based on how these young people see Diwali.  Through their own research and teamwork, these talented youngsters devised and produced their own short play which was performed at the Public in West Bromwich last Sunday to a lively audience. The event had sold out! For the participants, this was their first brush with professional theatre and performance and they have taken away news skills and an impression that is long lasting.

Reena Jaisiah – Caste Away Arts

CasteWatchUK on BBC Asian Network

Caste was discussed in the daily debate on BBC Asian Network’s Nihal show on Tuesday.
Members of CWUK took part in the discussion about whether or not caste is relevant to Asians in the UK today.
Find out what what was said by listening online to the show –

Drama and Story-telling Workshop at LEAD+ 2010

This morning I presented a drama and story-telling workshop at LEAD+ 2010 on behalf of Caste Away Arts. In a beautiful countryside setting in Cheshunt Hertforshire, around 10 young British Indians explored their identity through short stories, poems and drama.
They had a chance to do something that was new to them and outside their comfort zone. Hopefully the skills they learnt today will help them think creatively when they approach challenges in their chosen careers. Most importantly they learnt how to write something in an engaging way. The way you put across your ideas has to be to the point, engaging and memorable, only then can you stand out from the crowd. Also they got an insight into eachothers ideas of identity with some beautiful and heart-touching poetry.
What really came across today is that many young British-Asians are confused about how to label themselves – are they British? or Indian? or English? or British-Indian? or British-Asian? and is it ok to support India in the cricket when they are playing against England?
These are the kind of questions myself and my friends used to ask ourselves and it seems like not much has changed….it may have become even more confusing! What we can be sure of though is that young “British-Asians” today are striving to be the best in their chosen paths in life and are going to make an amazing contribution to Britain. Maybe they should give themselves a break, take the best bits of both worlds and concentrate on just being themselves.

Rena Dipti Annobil