Back in June, a lawsuit citing caste-based discrimination was filed by the State of California against CISCO Systems. The lawsuit sued the company for harassment faced by an Indian-American employee based on his caste. Now, in a new joint statement shared with the Washington Post, 30 female Indian engineers from the Dalit community working in Sillicon Valley companies say they have faced rampant caste-based discrimination.
The women claim that the caste bias has been adopted by entire networks of engineers belonging to the dominant castes from hiring to performance reviews.
They also hailed the employee from Cisco who has spoken up against caste hierarchy in the company, leading to the lawsuit in June. “We thank John Doe from Cisco for speaking out because his experience echoes our own. As Dalit women, we have already seen both casteism and sexism during our tech education in India. Many of us have the burden of proving ourselves to our male peers, while also facing multiple casteist assumptions that we are not competent developers,” the women’s statement read.
On Why They Remained Silent For Years
The women lay the foundation of their grievance in the report by explaining that they are pathbreaking for their community. Most of them are first generation learners from their community
They had to sacrifice a great deal to come to the United States and work in companies, both in and beyond, Silicon Valley. Today they work in such companies as Google, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Wipro, Infosys, and Cisco.
They explain that they struggled silently in the hopes of breaking through for years, to not feel like their sacrifices were all for nothing. For many of them, speaking up also meant not only risking being fired from their jobs, but also losing their immigration status.
The Women Have Faced Rampant Discrimination In The “Dominant Caste Locker Room Culture” Of Workplaces
“Being women in STEM is even harder when you have the added component of caste,” the statement reads.
“We are always having to dodge difficult caste locator questions about where we are from, what religion we practice, and whom we have married—questions designed to place us into the caste hierarchy against our will. We also have had to weather demeaning insults to our background and accusations that we have achieved our jobs solely due to affirmative action. It is exhausting,” they write.
The women recount how they faced bullying, hazing, and humiliation from dominant caste networks in school, but powered through, only to find a similar casteist environment in their workplaces.
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“We have seen casteist bias dominate the hiring, referrals, and peer review processes in our respective workplaces. None of us were hired through those dominant caste “boys clubs” networks (we were employed through a general hiring process). As a result, working with Indian managers is a living hell,” the women assert.
From jokes about Dalit reservation and Dalit women, to sexual harassment, they say the “dominant caste locker room culture” has forced them to face it all.
They add that reporting these incidents to HR was a tricky option because “caste was not a protected category”.
The women claim that given the rampant casteism from Indian bosses, they found that they thrive when working under non-Indian bosses.
Real Change Is Needed Our Yet-To-Be-Annihilated-Of-Caste Society
“We need things to change. We are good at our jobs and we are good engineers. We are role models for our community and we want to continue to work in our jobs. But it is unfair for us to continue in hostile workplaces, without protections from caste discrimination,” the conclusion of the statement reads.
In India, unlike the US, we do have laws that criminalise caste-based discrimination. The Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955, for example, makes practicing or preaching ‘Untouchability’ punishable.
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, penalises obstructing members from these communities from participating in any profession.
However, these laws are too vague and non-specific (discounting the fact that they are also poorly implemented). Microaggressions and subtle forms of harassment, which is usually the form caste-based discrimination takes in workplaces, would not qualify as casteist. The laws do not lay down any procedure for complaints, inquiry, or punishment. The role of the organisation is also unaccounted for when individuals practice caste-based discrimination in the workplace.
The discrimination is so rampant in Indian workplaces that a statement on it by employees from the Dalit community in India would hardly have been as explosive as the statement made by the group of Dalit women in the US has been.
However, it highlights just how deeply rooted casteism in India is. Even when dominant caste individuals leave the country, they don’t leave casteist ideologies behind. It also brings a global spotlight and more eyeballs on a subject that has long been dismissed and neglected, even when protested hoarse by Indian citizens.
We need things to change. Speaking up, and actually listening to the voices speaking up from within the community, is a good first step. But active implementation of positive change in our yet-to-be-annihilated-of-caste, casteist society is the end goal we need to achieve.
As Christina Dhanaraj, a Dalit woman having experienced casteism in the Indian corporate world says in her article Being Dalit, Doing Corporate, “For Dalit women who observe and understand the complexity of such a reality, it can be extremely frustrating to do everything that one can possibly do, and still be left behind. What one needs are not just sponsors and solidarity, but an immediate and an urgent redressal of the Indian corporate space, which still continues to be casteist and sexist.
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