Chapter Fifty-One: Caste, Digital, Divide.

In 2022, many of the world's top tech companies have several Indians at their leadership. Yet, in the light of the recent row at Google, this week's TypeRight looks into a less-discussed issue of caste discrimination that affects workplaces, and its roots at India's digital divide.

On April 18, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, an Indian American anti-caste activist and the director of the organization Equality Labs, was supposed to deliver a talk at Google's Diversity Equity Inclusion program to sensitize employees of different forms of discrimination at workplaces. However, she was informed that her talk had been cancelled, after several employees mass emailed the company's management on how the talk would be "Anti-Hindu" and even “reverse discrimination against upper castes.”

As Thenmozhi responded with a letter to the CEO of Alphabet (google's parent company), Tanuja Gupta, a senior employee who had organised the talk, resigned in protest.

Here are some excerpts from her letter (the full letter can be found here.)

My career at Google has come to an end because of this company’s willfull ignorance of caste discrimination, the double standards of its DEI programming, the weaponization of confidentiality to avoid accountability, and a normalized practice of retaliation against those who speak out.

She reminds us of the power a company like Google possesses and the impacts of its decisions and policies:

Remember that Alphabet (Google) is like a nation-state. Our executive leadership changes less frequently than US elected officials, and our market cap value of $1.45 trillion rivals the GDP of countries like Canada, Australia or South Korea . Bear this power in mind when you consider the weight of Google’s choices.

All this happens, while several of their top leadership are Indian-origin:

Google is woefully and willfully ill-equipped to deal with matters of caste discrimination ... an Indian CEO and SVP who both know exactly what’s going on and tacitly approve of everything that’s happened.

Ms Gupta was also one of the organizers of a protest in 2018 where 20,000 Google employees around the world briefly 'walked out' of their offices to protest the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment. When she mentions in her letter about retaliation, she refers to the six other organisers of the protest who had to leave the company.

Thenmozhi and Equality Labs were instrumental in leading a campaign and survey on Caste in the United States which was quoted in a lawsuit against tech giant Cisco on discrimination on grounds of caste.

Thenmozhi’s letter is a reminder of the social compositions of the tech industry that seems to be dominated by a lot of Indians. While universities and companies abroad employ a larger policy of affirmative action, which works in favour of asian population as a whole, they often fail to take into account the social inequalities within communities, like caste in India.

As Thenmozhi pointed out in her letter:

“I write to you directly to remind you that this is also a moral obligation. You and I are both Tamil. You are from a Brahmin family, and I am from a Dalit family. In Madurai where you are from, Dalit people like myself face terrible violence. It is the site of the terrible 1997 Melavalavu massacre where the president of a village and six other Dalit men were hacked to death because dominant caste people refused to allow a democratically elected Dalit president to conduct his term."

She further points out the responsibility Mr. Pichai has to try and remedy historical wrongs, with his position of power:

“As someone with caste privilege, you are now in the role to do the right thing to address this issue at a company where you have an opportunity to lead these conversations with grace”

Companies having major offices in India, where caste remains a protected category are then bound to prevent similar discrimination from happening.

At the heart of India's inequalities, the same one that drives a barrier in its overseas diaspora, is the problem of caste. Just as the gendered digital divide, the social divide on India's caste lines runs deep, preventing marginalised communities from benefitting from the digital revolution, and goes as far as affecting the population abroad who have tried to. This article from our director, Osama Manzar, shows how the divide worked in some of the digital centers:

This research piece looks into the caste nature of India's digital divide, and "highlights the urgent need for addressing educational and income inequality between the different caste groups in India in order to bridge the digital divide."

Meanwhile, this is Equality Labs' call for support:

In other news:

Article 14's piece on the online attack on Muhammad Zubair, one of the founders of Alt-News, a fact checking platform:

Zubair had earlier exposed several disinformation and hate speech campaigns by the ruling party and 'fringe elements' associated with the party. In another judgement by the Delhi High court, strict action has been demanded on elected representatives partaking in hate speech, but this happened as the court dismissed a petition demanding action against a union minister who had allegedly incited violence, as the news agency PTI reports:

The Internet Freedom Foundation reports of a major data breach on the user databases of PM Kisan website, leaving several farmers' Aadhaar cards vulnerable:

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TypeRight - The Digital Nukkad

TypeRight - The Digital Nukkad, is a weekly conversational bulletin curated through the news and discussions on social media as well as what's happening on the ground. Through the eyes and ears of Digital Empowerment Foundation across rural India and global south, TypeRight aspires to focus on bringing the contextual relevance of digital technologies and developments on the society - both connected and unconnected.