The Caste in Tech Witch-Hunt Explained

By A.Kumar

In early July 2020, both the CNN and Washington Post published articles which detailed a lawsuit against Cisco for alleged caste discrimination of a “Dalit” employee by two “Upper Caste” employees, along with Cisco’s failure to launch a fair investigation into the issue.

Before examining the extent of this all, let’s make one thing very clear:

As Hindus, we must always oppose any form of discrimination.

This is not only limited to caste but any form of religious bigotry. One of the core Hindu principles is Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, stating that The World is One Family. Engaging in any form of religious bigotry is adharmic in nature and is nowhere to be supported by Hindu scriptures.

In fact, this recent piece published in the Houston Chronicle examines the narratives about caste within the diaspora as it moves away from caste and individuals identifying solely as Hindu.

The article describes an interaction with an American colleague that asked the author about him and his colleague’s caste, along with how they ranked among each other. The author stated, “Left alone, the colleague and I would have never considered caste, but we were both being subjected to subscribe to a system by non-Hindus that other Hindus didn’t even subject us to.”

This shows that the obsession with caste does not come from Hindus in the diaspora, but rather, those attempting to subjugate Hindus into conforming to a colonial system. Caste is seen from a colonial construct to maintain control over Hindus with the philosophy of divide and rule — a familiar concept to students of British colonial policies.

Problem with the lawsuit

The organizations claiming to take a stance against caste-based discrimination do not care about learning the truth or opposing real discrimination. In fact, they have unleashed a witch hunt against “Brahmins” for purely political reasons. It is in a systematic effort to disenfranchise and erase “Brahmins” from any form of public life and economically starve the community.

Remember Tamil Nadu

This is not the first time such systematic attacks against Brahmins have taken place. Periyar, one of the main leaders in Tamil Nadu’s Dravidian movement, was a key player in the war against Brahmins forged in Tamil Nadu.

The rise of linguistic and casteist fanatics like Periyar turned Hindus against one another. They demonized Brahmins for their academic success, launched an otherizing campaign, and instigated violent attacks against them. He frequently described Brahmins as Aryans (referring to the racist Aryan Invasion Theory — which has been frequently debunked by historians). Generations of people were taught to blame any and all evils on the 2.5–3% of the Tamil Nadu population that hardly had any real power. (Not to mention that Periyar married his own daughter — which Equality Labs has praised — encouraging paedophilia).

The 1930s led to many social and political changes as a result of Anti-Brahminism. This fragmented the society along casteist fault lines. People living harmoniously with each other suddenly saw their neighbor as the root cause for all that is not well in their society; they saw Brahmins as those who would take away their opportunities.

In an attempt to deny Brahmins equal opportunities, a regressive quota system was put into place for higher education and job opportunities. The pernicious quota system, a product of diversity in outcome vs diversity in opportunities, cemented the zero-sum game and further sowed divisions in society. As a result, the open-merit-based competition was reduced to < 30% of available seats in any college.

While having diversity is important, this should have been done on a socio-economic basis to expand educational opportunities for all. A poor Brahmin, despite terrible economic conditions, would need to get 99%+ to get into a university. For this reason, many Brahmins left to other countries for better opportunities.

This is the same attempt happening in the United States.

Examining the lawsuit

We must always take a stance against any form of discrimination. However, a lawsuit citing Equality Labs, an organization that has actively called for genocide on indigenous peoplesconformed to settler-colonial history and attempted to gaslight and silence those who expose their extremist agenda, is fraught with many issues.

A point by point rebuttal below further examines the flaws in the complaint and exposes the witch hunt. The full document on the lawsuit can be found here.

Below is the gist of the general complaint against Cisco, Sundar Iyer, and Ramana Kompalla. The suit goes on to explain the timeline of the alleged discrimination claims.

  • “Doe” refers to the Dalit employee who made the caste discrimination complaints

Both [supervisors] knew Doe is Dalit, they had certain expectations for him at Cisco. Doe was expected to accept a caste hierarchy within the workplace where Doe held the lowest status within the team and, as a result, received less pay, fewer opportunities, and other inferior terms and conditions of employment because of his religion, ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/color. They also expected him to endure a hostile work environment.

When Doe unexpectedly opposed the unlawful practices, contrary to the traditional order between the Dalit and higher castes, Defendants retaliated against him. Worse yet, Cisco failed to even acknowledge the unlawful nature of the conduct, nor did it take any steps necessary to prevent such discrimination, harassment, and retaliation from continuing in its workplace.

1) Quoting a flawed report

A 2018 survey of South Asians in the U.S. found that 67% of Dalits reported being treated unfairly at their American workplaces because of their caste and related characteristics. However, few South Asian employees raised concerns to their American employers, because they believe “their concerns will not be given weight” or will lead to “negative consequences to their career.” This is precisely what happened to Doe at Cisco

The report has many statistical flaws, flawed datasets, and fabrication of information. A full breakdown can be found here.

For example, the report only uses a sample of 1,500 research participants, whereas, the Indian diaspora population in the U.S is close to three million. It is clear that the sample space provided is not large enough to draw a 67% conclusion. If the sample size is too small, one risks the inclusion of a disproportionate number of individuals who are outliers and anomalies. These skew the results and do not allow one to get a fair picture of the whole population. The survey suffers from sampling bias because it has deliberately chosen certain types of survey-takers (i.e. those from the marginalized communities who have suffered discrimination).

Equality Labs praises the use of their report in the caste discrimination case. It almost seems like they created the report for this exact purpose: To file false complaintslaunch a witch hunt to name and shame prominent engineers in the Hindu community, and have them cancelled by the online mob.

Tweet from Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the founder of Equality Labs.

Equality Labs as an organization has attempted to taint, malign and rewrite significance behind anything and everything Hindu.

i) Reinforcement of colonial constructs

The word caste actually comes from the Portuguese word “casta”, which means “race, lineage, tribe or breed”. Often, the term ‘Jāti’ is confused with the term ‘Varṇa’. It is the closest term that refers to the Portuguese derivate term ‘caste’. The term ‘Jāti’ appears as a sub-group of the larger framework of the Varṇa system. It refers to clans, tribes, communities, and sub-communities which are associated with a traditional occupation.

Equality Labs has a history of using caste as a weapon to attack Hinduism and call for its wholesale destruction. To illustrate, here are some tweets from Sharmin Hossain, Political Director of Equality Labs.

Image for post
Note: these tweets have since been deleted

Sharmin clearly states that ‘Brahminism’ (a trope used to describe Hinduism) should be “dismantled” and “destroyed” and until that happens, no way can Hindus be part of progressive discourse. This blatant bigotry against a religious minority group in the U.S. confirms a supremacist ideology seeking to wipe out all forms of pluralism. What’s more interesting, Equality Lab’s own caste report claims that caste is still a pertinent issue outside of the Hindu diaspora — including in Islam, Sikhism, and Christianity. This calls into question the supposed legitimacy of the report as Sharmin’s tweets show an insidious agenda to systematically target Hindus.

On another occasion, upon being confronted by a Bangladeshi Hindu genocide survivor and asked to condemn Jamaat E Islami, Sharmin Hossain harassed, trolled, and refused to condemn one of the largest terrorist organizations in South Asia. Such tweets have since been deleted as well.

How far will they go to try to destroy Hinduism in lieu of “Brahminism”?

Let’s see.

2) Myths about skin color

Complainant Doe’s ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/color is Dalit Indian. Doe has a darker complexion relative to other persons of non-Dalit Indian descent. Doe’s religion is Hindu. As a Dalit, he also is known as being from the Untouchable or Scheduled Caste

This is a key example as to why the entire lawsuit is deeply flawed, lacks research and substance. A study from Washington University Global Studies Law Review dismantles the link between caste, Hinduism and skin color. Whilst colorism is certainly an issue, this is the result of a colonial hangover. After many centuries of British rule, Indians have been told that dark skin = ugly and light skin = beautiful. In Hinduism itself, many Murtis of various gods are both black and white. If Hinduism encourages colorism as Equality Labs likes to claim, why do Hindus worship deities who have dark complexions?

Furthermore, many Indians, “Dalit” or not, have dark complexions, including many Brahmins from the Southern Indian community (such as Iyer’s). Even Northern Indian community members have dark skins. Hence, the bogey of darker complexion is being deployed to dupe those who don’t understand the cultural and historical dynamics of India. In addition, there is no such thing as a “Dalit” national origin or ethnicity. The Government of India does not use the word “Dalit” in its official communications, surveys, or categorizations; in 2018, it sent out an advisory to the media discouraging the use of “Dalit” as a reference to lower castes and instead to use “Scheduled Castes.”

3) Iyer employed Doe

Doe has over 20 years of experience in the software development lifecycle process at startups and established companies. In or around September 2015, Iyer recruited and hired Doe as a Principal Engineer for Cisco because of his expertise and experience. As the head of the Cisco team, Iyer hired and supervised Doe, having the authority to control his day-to-day assignments, discipline, discharge, direct, and transfer Doe. Upon information and belief, Iyer is Brahmin.

Reference to Doe and Iyer’s time at IIT Bombay and Iyer’s familiarity with Doe’s caste:

In or around October 2016, two of Doe’s colleagues told Doe that Iyer informed them that Doe was from the “Scheduled Caste” (Dalit) and enrolled in the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) through affirmative action. Iyer was aware of Doe’s caste because they attended IIT at the same time

So let’s examine the facts: if Iyer was so particular about caste, why did he hire a “Dalit,” especially given that Iyer had known Doe from IIT Bombay? Both graduated the same year and Iyer knew fully well that Doe did not come from the same caste background.

It is to be noted that both Iyer and Kompalla hold Ph.D.’s in Computer Science from prestigious institutions whereas the complainant only holds a Bachelor’s from IIT Bombay. This is not to undermine Doe’s educational qualifications or intelligence but to point out the large education gap between the two parties. Those with Ph.D.’s and experience in academia tend to have different expectations as to engineers.

Perhaps Iyer made an error of judgment of Doe’s skills & capabilities — nothing to do with caste. In addition, one must ask whether Doe had any on-the-job performance issues.

4) Silicon Valley’s work culture

On or around February 26, 2018, Kompella became the Interim Head of Engineering for Cisco’s team after Iyer stepped down. In his new role, Kompella supervised Doe and continued to discriminate, harass, and retaliate against Doe by, for example, giving him assignments that were impossible to complete under the circumstances. Kompella also began requiring Doe to submit weekly status reports to him and Senior Vice President/General Manager Tom Edsall.

Submitting weekly status reports is a standard procedure in many companies. Silicon Valley is known for extremely high-pressure work environments as per a Wharton School of Business article, with a constantly stressful atmosphere. Given Doe’s background, it is evident that he has 20+ years of experience working in the software industry, with the last several years in Silicon Valley. Completing “impossible” tasks is merely a part of work culture in Silicon Valley and nothing to do with caste.

Could Iyer or Kompella have been harsh? Perhaps. Could they have been tough managers? AbsolutelyBut is there proof that they discriminated based on caste? Not really.

5) The rejected interview

Two months later, in or around July 2018, Doe applied for the position of Director of Research and Development Operations with Gupta. According to Gupta’s interview notes, he ranked Doe as “below average” in six out of eight categories and as “meeting requirements” in the remaining two categories. But Gupta’s assessment of Doe was improperly influenced by Iyer’s retaliatory employment actions. Gupta specifically cited Doe’s lead role being taken away and his job reduced to that of an independent contributor in November 2016. Gupta’s notes also reflected Iyer’s retaliatory criticisms about Doe’s work product, social skills, and insubordination. Doe did not get the position.

It is to be noted that Gupta had commented on the capabilities of Doe — not of Doe’s caste or anything pertaining to his background. It seems as though Doe lacked the necessary skills for the new job position. Again, nothing to do with caste.

6) Final Remarks + Conclusion

As alleged above, as supervisors for Cisco, Defendants Iyer and Kompella retaliated against Doe for opposing their discriminatory and harassing conduct by confronting Iyer and filing internal discrimination complaints. Among other things, Doe engaged in protected activity by confronting Iyer about disclosing his caste to colleagues and by repeatedly trying to bring the castebased and related discrimination and harassment to Cisco’s attention. Immediately afterwards, Iyer and Kompella subjected Doe to adverse employment actions including reassigning his job duties, isolating him from colleagues, giving him assignments that were impossible to complete under the circumstances, denying him work opportunities that could have led to a raise, denying him a raise, and denying him promotions

This goes back to the original question — Was he denied such opportunities because of his caste, or due to a lack of qualifications and/or job performance?

It seems as though this was a work dispute or performance issue at best. If there were possibilities of caste discrimination, Iyer would have rejected Doe during the job application process on the basis of caste given that he know of Doe’s background from his time at IIT Bombay. Many arguments are framed upon a ‘he said, she said’ discourse, and no viable evidence suggests caste discrimination. On the contrary, there is a significant amount of evidence to suggest performance issues.

Inferiority Complex

From Image and Identity: Tamil Migration to the United States (UC Berkeley)

They [Non-Brahmins] therefore see themselves as lacking the knowledge to achieve what they perceive Brahmins to have achieved. In one discussion in which I took part, several non-Brahmins debated among themselves whether or not they have an “inferiority complex.” Some argued that this inferiority complex remains their problem and responsibility to overcome while others asserted that Brahmins’ treatment of other castes as inferior is a significant issue. Though differing in emphasis, these non-Brahmins agreed that they had to overcome both internal and external constraints of subordination to Brahmins. Since work opportunities in the United States are relatively free of these historically and culturally specific problems of Brahmin/non-Brahmin patterns and perceptions of dominance and subordination, non-Brahmins with whom I spoke cited “freedom” as very important to their lives in the United States.

What does this entail? This does not entail that non-Brahmins are inferior, or that Brahmins must subordinate non-Brahmins. However, it does entail the impacts of systematic brainwashing and anti “Brahminism” on other communities. Regardless of a Brahmin’s actions, there is a subconscious need to feel suspicious of Brahmins due to the active Anti Brahmin propaganda.

The above research highlights the fact that some non-Brahmins may feel a sense of discrimination on the basis of their caste, regardless of whether such a phenomenon occurs or not. This sense of discrimination is the result of sustained propaganda which posits Brahmins = superior and Dalit = inferior.

That’s why: Case dismissed

On October 20, news came out claiming that the charges against Cisco for alleged caste discrimination had been dismissed (most likely due to a lack of evidence — although this is speculation.) It will now be refiled in a California State Court.

Sonia Paul, who tweeted the news seen above, is a journalist based in the Bay Area and has a notorious habit of following Hindu accounts, documenting tweets of Hindus, and then frame them under the trope of “Hindutva Hate” and doxx individuals. Her recent piece in Politico is an attempt to draw parallels between Hinduism and Nazism, citing known white nationalist and Neo-Nazi, Pieter Friedrich, also known for his anti-mask views during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The desperation to target Hindus has increased

As the case has now been dismissed, there is a concerted effort to reach out to Dalit Americans and try to find loopholes around caste discrimination.

Once again, Equality Labs claim there are around 260 allegations in various tech companies on the basis of caste, without any substantive evidence.

The Washington Post claims that people like Satya Nadella, Indra Nooyi, and Sundar Pichai are all Brahmins and have benefited from “caste privilege.” Unfortunately, these statements are not only misleading in nature but false in its entirety. Pichai slept in his living room for the majority of his childhood and did not have a TV or car growing up. Nadella’s family were government employees. Nooyi was not from a well off family either and studied in Madras Christian College, one that does not have the regressive quota system in place. What caste privilege are they referring to?

Cisco is just a start. With the latest developments in the above letter released, it is clear that multiple Hindu engineers will be targeted for their faith. The mainstream media will engage in a total witch-hunt against Hindus.

The dangers it poses for the Hindu diaspora

The statement from 30 Dalit engineers is a coordinated effort targeting the Hindu community by pushing for caste to be included as a “protected category” in the United States.

Issues with caste legislation

There have been other efforts to undermine Hinduism and its practices by proposing caste “protection” legislation. In the U.K, there has been a targeted effort over the years to provide caste protections — but the sole issue is framing it as a Hindu problem. Caste is a construct of colonization, mistranslation of native languages, and destruction of indigenous customs. Satish Sharma, chairman of National Council of Hindu Temples, has stated that:

“This is not something that is part and parcel of our beliefs and ideologies,” he says. “Our scriptures and our recent history up until a few hundred years ago didn’t have this caste system in there. This is being directed at us, this has been put around our necks. Without even thinking about what it means, you automatically now gain the reaction ‘dirty Hindus’, that we’re terrible and have savage ideals, that’s what’s automatically invoked whenever you mention caste. It’s not part of our culture and we don’t want it introduced.”

Satish Sharma, chairman of National Council of Hindu Temples

Satish Sharma, chairman of National Council of Hindu Temples

The U.K has since dropped the caste protections into legislation as Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist communities come together. An article from the London School of Economics argues that such legislation would have serious economic impacts on the Hindu community along with religious freedom rights violated. Marriages, Hindu owned businesses and places of worship would have their civil rights breached.

We must not let this happen in the United States.

Other forms of targeting Hindus

Equality Labs has previously led a witch hunt against Dr. Mahendra Amin, an Indian American doctor with an excellent record. With half-truths and baked lies, it is clear that they have used people and tragedies as pawns to push political agendas.

This illustrates a systematic attack on Hindu professionals in order to economically disenfranchise and compromise the rights of Hindu people. Groups like Equality Labs thrive on bizarre and dangerous comparisons of Hinduism to Nazism, along with a string of ad hominem attacks.

How can I protect myself?

  1. Know your rights: This has to be the most important one of them all. You have the right to confront witnesses, have a public, speedy or jury trial, be represented by an attorney & receive adequate representation and not be tried twice for the same charges — double jeopardy. There are many online legal guides to ensure that your rights and civil liberties are protected when wrongfully accused. It is also important to look into the exact anti-harassment and discrimination policies of your company.
  2. Document every conversation with coworkers (especially of South Asian origin) who you may not get along with. It is clear from this lawsuit that many performance issues, along with personality clashes and differences are used to frame Hindus based on alleged caste discrimination. It is important to document all interactions with employees, particularly those with performance issues.
  3. Trust your gut instinct
  4. Do not allow yourself to be bullied by the press. Both Iyer and Kompella have been absolutely vilified by the mainstream media outlets around the world. The press conveniently ignores their long list of accomplishments and multiple instances of compassion. The U.S. legal system is based on the edict of “innocent until proven guilty.” For reference see, Coffin v United States“established the presumption of innocence of persons accused of crimes.” If there is substantial evidence, it is possible to sue for defamation.
  5. Put your own narratives out there without violating the law and allowing due process. The U.S. Constitution allows freedom of speech. It is your right to exercise it.
  6. Stand strong. This too shall pass.

Remember: Caste is a tool from the colonial playbook to divide Hindus and dismantle our narrative. Challenge it before it consumes you.

Further Reading

**Originally appeared on Medium.com and re-produced with permission of the author.