Cisco case puts spotlight on long shadow of caste bias



Shanti vividly remembers April 2015. She was working with a outstanding IT outsourcing firm within the US. A tech employee with greater than 10 years of expertise, she was excited and searching ahead to a flourishing profession.

At some point the undertaking she was engaged on was given to a brand new staff, which was full of Indians. Quickly after, Shanti and two different staff members had been side-lined on the grounds that the undertaking didn’t require additional members. She was then laid off with the 2 colleagues.

A former colleague informed her later that the staff recruited replacements instantly after their departure.

Shanti mentioned her exit had nothing to do along with her qualification or expertise. It was as a result of the Indians within the staff most popular to work with members of their very own caste, based on her.

Shanti belongs to a group in Tamil Nadu that’s thought of backward by the state authorities.

“I might have sued, however it could have taken much more toll on my psychological well being,” she mentioned. She additionally didn’t have proof that it was a case of discrimination and she or he was unsure how her expertise could be perceived by the business.

As an alternative, she discovered a brand new job.

Lengthy-running downside

Caste discrimination within the tech world? Actually?

At some other time, the expertise of Shanti would in all probability have been met with disbelief. However not a lot after a lawsuit was filed on June 30 by California’s Division of Honest Employment and Housing towards US tech main Cisco on behalf of a Dalit worker for work discrimination based mostly on caste.

Additionally Learn:  Cisco sued by California state for job discrimination based mostly on Indian worker’s caste 

The lawsuit accused two upper-caste Brahmins, Sundara Iyer and Raman Kompella, of harassing the Dalit employee, known as John Doe to guard his id, of their capability as managers. Cisco was sued for allegedly denying the employee, who immigrated to the US from India, raises {and professional} alternatives in addition to making him “endure a hostile work setting”.

The Cisco lawsuit has now put the highlight on caste discrimination that has lengthy pervaded the Indian group in Silicon Valley and the tech business particularly.

“Effectively, what else do you anticipate when Indians who grew up prejudiced and comply with the caste hierarchy in India go the US,” requested Kancha Ilaiah, a Dalit activist and scholar. “They’d clearly comply with the identical apply there.”

Moneycontrol spoke to Shanti and a scrum of IT engineers to grasp the prevalence of harassment based mostly on caste within the tech business.

Armaan, a senior govt with a prime IT agency within the US, and from a minority group in India, mentioned he has not confronted outright discrimination due to his senior place. “However in case you ask me if it exists, in fact it does,” he mentioned.

Armaan mentioned it has been 5 years since he was final promoted regardless of dealing with million-dollar consumer accounts. Most of his friends who joined the corporate in the identical position with him have gone on to move verticals. “I can guarantee you that there was no distinction by way of efficiency as a result of until date I’m one of many go-to individuals for dealing with a disaster and difficult shoppers.” Armaan mentioned.

Why then was he not promoted?

“My superior who’s from a dominant caste promoted individuals who he associated to, be it identical group or caste and I used to be simply not. In terms of climbing the company hierarchy, the bias exists,” Armaan mentioned.

This bias, tech staff who spoke to Moneycontrol identified, is refined usually. 

“There’s not a lot empirical information to indicate the extent of discrimination,” mentioned Karthikeyan Shanmugam, govt member, Ambedkar Kings Examine Circle (AKSC), an organisation that’s concerned in educating folks about caste discrimination. The organisation is at the moment amassing testimonies from Dalits within the US concerning the discrimination they confronted.

Indians within the US

Indians started shifting to the US within the 1990s driving the wave of an IT providers outsourcing growth. Most of those occurred to be engineers from the higher caste group in India.

At the moment, the variety of Indians residing within the US has grown exponentially; by 2017, there have been about four million Indians residing within the US, based on a 2019 report by the Strengthening South Asian Communities in America. Indians are the third largest immigration group within the US after the Mexicans and Chinese language.

The Indian inhabitants is extra hanging in Silicon Valley, the tech capital of the US. Based on the 2019 report, there have been about 5 lakh Indians in California, accounting for 1.three p.c of the state’s whole inhabitants and residential to 20 p.c of the full Indian immigrant inhabitants.

There is no such thing as a clear information on what number of of those Indians are Dalits. However based on the lawsuit towards Cisco, just one.5 p.c of the Indian immigrants had been from the Dalit group as of 2003. This quantity might very properly have elevated now.

As Ilaiah emphasised, these engineers landed in new shores carrying some horrid habits from dwelling. “It (caste bias) is one thing all of us grew up with and proceed to stay with,” mentioned Shanmugam of AKSC.

Journalist Yashica Dutt underscored how caste bias has taken root within the Indian tech group within the US in a strong article in The New York Occasions. “Caste prejudice and discrimination is rife throughout the Indian communities in the US and different international locations. Its chains are even turning the work tradition inside multibillion-dollar American tech firms, and past,” she wrote.

A 2018 Caste within the Unites States report by Equality Labs revealed that 67 p.c of Dalits surveyed within the diaspora reported being handled unfairly at their office due to their caste. As much as 12 p.c of Shudras had the identical expertise.

The report additionally revealed that although Indians are by far the biggest group to command a big payscale, there’s a catch right here. Near 30 p.c of Dalits and 25 p.c of different decrease caste folks within the diaspora are nonetheless making lower than $24,999 a yr. However solely 10 p.c of Brahmins make lower than $24,999 a yr.

“Discrimination is as huge because the Indian inhabitants within the US,” mentioned Ilaiah.

Certainly, divisions within the Indian group within the US run deep. Indians from one caste are a tightly-knit unit within the US, based on Shanmugam. In order one strikes round in the identical circle even within the US, they have an inclination to gravitate in direction of the identical group in workplaces as properly, he mentioned.

Additionally Learn: Cisco caste-bias case: Rising voices now name for an anti-caste framework in Silicon Valley firms

Even IIT and IIM graduates who’re handpicked by the highest US giants and IT companies to work within the US carry with them the bias, Shanmugam mentioned. These divisions manifest at lunch breaks or casual staff conferences, the place there are giant variety of Indians.

That’s what occurred to T Kathiravan, a senior govt residing in California. In his testimony to ASKC, which Moneycontrol reviewed, he shared how his direct supervisor from a dominant caste used a slur for Indian affirmative motion insurance policies and claimed that it could have destroyed any possibilities of schooling for his son again in India.

Tensions rise within the tech workplaces within the US — because it occurs in India —when folks from a group don’t conform to caste norms. This too interprets to discrimination, nonetheless refined, each in workplaces and social life.

Take as an illustration studying music, particularly Indian classical music, which has been dominated by the upper-caste group in India. AG Ramya, a Dalit residing in California, mentioned in her testimony to AKSC that she and her husband had been enquired about their caste by the music instructor within the US when she wished to enroll their daughter. The instructor informed the household that solely sure sects of individuals have the power of grasp music, based on Ramya.

Devi, one other tech employee, by no means match within the US. For 2 years after she moved to the US in 2013, ​Devi, who has 15 years of expertise, tried to take a stab at socialising with different Indians. She hosted events, participated in group get-togethers and jumped from one group of Silicon Valley moms to a different.

“I simply was not accepted,” reminisced Devi, who’s from a group that the Tamil Nadu authorities has designated as backward class.

“Any group I am going to, there are a regular set of questions I might be requested,” Devi defined. It was by no means what her caste was although, by no means that direct, she added.

“I might be requested if I’ve a Inexperienced Card, what sort of home I used to be residing, if it was owned and if it had a garden,” she mentioned. “If reply to any of those questions is a no, I might be ignored completely.”

What’s the resolution?

Shanmugam mentioned it has to begin with sensitising the Individuals, majority of whom are unaware of Indian caste system and consider Indians as a giant monolithic group. “To grasp extra about office discrimination based mostly on caste, we have to have empirical information on how individuals are being discriminated,” he added.

“Although discrimination could not at all times be apparent in workplaces, there’s a tendency for higher caste leaning provided that majority of the Indian supervisors are from this group,” he added.

Step one is to simply accept that such practices exist. “What we try to do is that urging these firms to recognise caste as working equally to race and gender as a supply of discrimination and harassment and incorporate caste practices as unfair and punishable apply of their human sources insurance policies,” Shanmugam mentioned.

“As soon as that occurs, we need to have caste-centric coverage that won’t solely assist Indian Americans but additionally to international places of work the place caste has transported with South Asian staff,” he mentioned.​ 

The names of tech staff quoted within the article have been modified to guard their id.

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