'CISCO Case Just The Tip of The Iceberg': US-based Dalits Worry over Export of Indian Caste System

A man passes under a Cisco logo at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. (Reuters)

A man passes under a Cisco logo at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. (Reuters)

California regulators have sued Cisco Systems Inc, accusing it of discriminating against an Indian-American employee and allowing him to be harassed by two managers because he was from a lower Indian caste than them.

Eram Agha
  • News18.com New Delhi
  • Last Updated: July 2, 2020, 11:17 PM IST
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US-based outfit Ambedkar International Centre (AIC) has written to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) saying that a case, in which Cisco Systems Inc is accused of discriminating against an Indian-American employee and allowing him to be harassed by two managers because he was from a lower Indian caste, is just "a tip of the iceberg”.

The outfit, in a communication to Director Kevin Kish, has given suggestions on how to insulate the system from further incidents of caste-based discrimination as the percentage of Dalits is lesser than upper-caste Hindus who migrate to the US for jobs.

A lawsuit was filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing in a federal court in San Jose on Tuesday against Cisco Systems Inc for allegedly practicing “discrimination, harassment, and retaliation” against an Indian-American employee on the basis of his caste.

“The Complainant was expected to accept a caste hierarchy within the workplace where he held the lowest status within a team of higher-caste colleagues, receiving less pay, fewer opportunities, and other inferior terms and conditions of employment because of his religion, ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/colour,” it said.

“Many existing factions of Ambedkarite groups can collectively raise their concerns here and stay united. The AIC will serve as a venue for social change initiatives, meetings, conferences, celebrations and the propagation of Ambedkar's philosophy throughout the United States,” said the AIC web page after legal intervention.

AIC's letter

The board members feel the case "has paved a way to bring the plight of thousands of migrated underprivileged Indians (formally called untouchables) to the forefront. Soaring on the hope of equality, which they never had in their own motherland due to the Hindu caste system followed and ruled by quasi-fascist government".

Presenting facts to DFEH officials, AIC members said a heinous crime is committed against an untouchable person every 15 minutes in India. “After surviving through mental and physical agony, less than 2% untouchables rise to level to get an opportunity to come to the US. These 2% migrant Indians are very talented, hardworking and sharp techies, majorly from the top institutions of India.”

“Even after coming to US, they have been continuing to live in mental and emotional fear as many as the remaining 98% migrated Indians are privileged caste-ist Hindus who have started caste discrimination here," said the statement. "The Dalits who have entered the organised tech sector lately by sheer grit and talent are despised by these privileged Hindu caste people, making every attempt to hamper the growth of Dalits and set them up for failure.”

Offering suggestions and solidarity to the victim, the members wrote, “We, the members of the Dr Ambedkar International Center, an untouchables organisation in the US stand in solidarity with the victim and the State of California for taking up the case. We would like to offer data, real stories, compelling arguments, testimonies to penalise such caste-discrimination. We request a Congressional hearing be conducted to find ways to curb the malice of Hindu casteism here in the US.”

The board members have urged California “to mandate the US corporation to add caste along with colour into their equal opportunity hiring policies and implement it in all of their offices. This step will go a long way in bringing equality in the US, India, elsewhere”.

'Ambedkar predicted export of caste discrimination to foreign land'

On May 9, 1916, when presenting a paper at an Anthropology Seminar at Columbia University, Babasaheb Ambedkar aptly foresaw the problem of taking caste prejudice to foreign lands.

References in Castes In India - Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development, he said: "The caste problem is a vast one, both theoretically and practically. Practically, it is an institution that portends tremendous consequences. It is a local problem, but one capable of much wider mischief, for as long as caste in India does exist, Hindus will hardly intermarry or have any social intercourse with outsiders; and if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem."

AIC member Anil Wagde, an alumnus of IIM Calcutta and working in an IT firm in the US, recalled the above lines and said, “As he predicted, Hindus have indeed exported caste outside of India. While they are the beneficiaries of the diversity policies of the US, they vehemently oppose every attempt to diversify Indian campuses. The faculty in IITs and IIMs is predominantly of privileged castes.”

“In India, casteism is all pervasive but subtle. It is extremely difficult to prove casteism especially in Indian courts. We are overjoyed that US has understood the discrimination and is taking up the cudgel on behalf of the victim. We would like to educate the US policy makers of the malice and deprivation that Dalits suffer back in India,” he added.

AIC board member Ram Kumar, who has been working in Silicon Valley for two decades and had his first job at CISCO, said the incident was waiting to happen and shows Ambedkar was correct in his prediction. "Caste-based discrimination is an epidemic here. With this incident we want to ensure that nobody is discriminated against on the basis of caste and there is equality. As we see that Indians are migrating to US and at one point you will be asked about your caste. You can't escape the question; due to fear of retaliation Dalits don't talk about it," he said.

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