Google’s plan to speak about caste bias led to ‘division and rancor’

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The rising Hindu nationalist movement that has unfold from India by way of the diaspora has arrived inside Google, in accordance with workers.

In April, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the founder and govt director of Equality Labs — a nonprofit that advocates for Dalits, or members of the lowest-ranked caste — was scheduled to present a chat to Google Information workers for Dalit Historical past Month. However Google workers started spreading disinformation, calling her “Hindu-phobic” and “anti-Hindu” in emails to the corporate’s leaders, paperwork posted on Google’s intranet and mailing lists with 1000’s of workers, in accordance with copies of the paperwork in addition to interviews with Soundararajan and present Google workers who spoke on the situation of anonymity due to issues about retaliation.

Soundararajan appealed directly to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who comes from an upper-caste household in India, to permit her presentation to go ahead. However the discuss was canceled, main some workers to conclude that Google was willfully ignoring caste bias. Tanuja Gupta, a senior supervisor at Google Information who invited Soundararajan to talk, resigned over the incident, in accordance with a duplicate of her goodbye electronic mail posted internally Wednesday and seen by The Washington Submit.

India’s engineers have thrived in Silicon Valley. So has its caste system.

Soundararajan — who has given talks on caste at Microsoft, Salesforce, Airbnb, Netflix, and Adobe — stated Equality Labs started receiving talking invites from tech firms within the wake of the George Floyd protests. “Most establishments wouldn’t do what Google did. It’s absurd. The bigoted don’t get to the set the tempo of conversations about civil rights,” she stated.

Longtime observers of Google’s struggles to advertise range, fairness and inclusion say the fallout matches a well-known sample. Ladies of shade are requested to advocate for change. Then they’re punished for disrupting the established order.

In Gupta’s goodbye electronic mail, she questioned whether or not Google needed its range efforts to succeed. “Retaliation is a normalized Google follow to deal with inner criticism, and ladies take the hit,” she wrote. Gupta was one of many organizers behind the 2018 Google Walkout, through which 20,000 Google workers all over the world briefly walked out of their workplaces to protest the corporate’s mishandling of sexual harassment. The opposite six organizers have already left the corporate.


In an announcement, Google spokesperson Shannon Newberry wrote, “Caste discrimination has no place in our office. We even have a really clear, publicly shared coverage in opposition to retaliation and discrimination in our office.”

“We additionally made the choice to not transfer ahead with the proposed discuss which — slightly than bringing our neighborhood collectively and elevating consciousness — was creating division and rancor,” Newberry wrote.

Equality Labs, primarily based in Oakland, Calif., advocates for the civil rights of the caste previously known as “untouchables” in a millennia-old system of social hierarchy that originated with Hinduism in India, however has proliferated to completely different religions throughout South Asia. Many Indians have moved to america to work in tech firms, and a number of other Massive Tech CEOs are of Indian origin, together with Pichai, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Twitter’s Parag Agrawal. Some employees allege the patterns of discrimination have been replicated inside Silicon Valley firms.

Soundararajan, who’s Dalit, spent years convincing coverage groups at social media firms to incorporate caste as a protected class of their hate speech insurance policies. In conferences, firm representatives appeared to have little understanding about caste, regardless that it impacted hate speech of their largest markets, she stated.

How Facebook neglected the rest of the world, fueling hate speech and violence in India

So Equality Labs needed to collect information and assist social media firms develop cultural competency on caste. The group took the identical research-driven method to analyzing caste bias within the office.

Via its advocacy on content material moderation, Equality Labs developed a powerful community of Dalit tech employees. After the California Division of Honest Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit in opposition to Cisco alleging caste discrimination, their telephone strains had been flooded with reviews about bias and the group as soon as once more started gathering information. (Though U.S. employment regulation doesn’t explicitly prohibit caste-based discrimination, the DFEH argues caste is a protected below current statutes. Caste is a protected class in India, nonetheless. This leaves firms akin to Google and Cisco, which have workplaces in each nations, with completely different requirements for discrimination.)

Under fire from Hindu nationalist groups, U.S.-based scholars of South Asia worry about academic freedom

After the Google Walkout, Gupta went on to efficiently advocate for ending compelled arbitration each in Congress and inside Google, the place she can also be recognized for her work on range. Final September, Gupta was approached by two Google workers concerning the caste discrimination they’d witnessed on the firm, she wrote in her departure be aware. That prompted her to ask Soundararajan to current at a speaker collection Gupta hosted on range, fairness and inclusion for Google Information.

For the presentation, Soundararajan hoped to speak to the 60 or so Google workers scheduled to attend — who work in product and engineering in Information and Search — about caste fairness in newsrooms, constructing on a chat she delivered at Google’s Cloud Subsequent occasion in November 2021. She deliberate to clarify the make-up of mainstream Indian publications and the significance of highlighting Dalit journalists when reporting on points akin to local weather change or elections, due to the perception they may carry from the attitude of probably the most susceptible.

Two days earlier than Soundararajan’s presentation, seven Google workers despatched emails to firm leaders and Gupta “with inflammatory language about how they felt harmed and the way they felt their lives had been in danger by the dialogue of caste fairness,” in accordance with emails despatched by Gupta. Among the complaints “copied content material from recognized misinformation websites to malign the fame of the speaker,” Gupta’s emails stated — websites and organizations which have targeted academics in the United States and Canada who’re essential of Hindu nationalism or caste hierarchy.

These on-line campaigns can spook establishments unfamiliar with the politics of caste, Soundararajan stated. “They ask, ‘Are there individuals in their very own neighborhood that disagree with them? Perhaps it is a battle we don’t wish to get into.’ ”

Google had beforehand vetted Soundararajan to present an identical discuss, however executives postponed her presentation to the Google Information crew.

Then the controversy inside Google migrated to an 8,000-person electronic mail group for South Asian workers, in accordance with three present workers. After Gupta posted a hyperlink within the electronic mail group to a petition to reinstate the discuss, respondents argued that caste discrimination doesn’t exist, that caste just isn’t a factor in america, and that efforts to lift consciousness of those points in america would sow additional division. Some known as caste fairness a type of reverse discrimination in opposition to the highest-ranked castes due to India’s affirmative motion system for entry to schooling and authorities jobs. Others stated individuals from marginalized castes lack the schooling to correctly interpret Hindu scriptures round castes.

To Soundararajan, Google was lengthy overdue for a dialog on caste fairness. Pichai, the CEO, “is Indian and he’s Brahmin and he grew up in Tamil Nadu. There is no such thing as a approach you develop up in Tamil Nadu and never find out about caste due to how caste politics formed the dialog,” Soundararajan instructed The Submit. “If he could make passionate statements about Google’s [diversity equity and inclusion] commitments within the wake of George Floyd, he completely ought to be making those self same commitments to the context he comes from the place he’s somebody of privilege.”

Soundararajan stated Pichai has not responded to the letter she despatched him in April. Google declined to remark.

In accordance with Gupta’s letter and Soundararajan, the choice to cancel the discuss got here from Gupta’s boss, Cathy Edwards, a vp of engineering, who had no expertise or experience in caste.

In a Google Meet video name in mid-Might after the discuss was canceled, Soundararajan stated Edwards acknowledged that Google had subjected her to a degree of vetting no earlier speaker needed to endure. Google declined to make Edwards obtainable to remark.

Soundararajan warned that this degree of scrutiny would imply that no Dalit can be allowed to talk on caste. She in contrast it to not letting an abuse survivor converse concerning the #MeToo motion. Edwards acknowledged the problem, however stated she needed to take care of individuals crying on the opposite facet of the road, Soundararajan stated.

Amid all of the controversy, Gupta and Soundararajan posted on YouTube a version of the talk they’d meant to present. Throughout the video name, Edwards stated she watched the discuss and thought it was wonderful.

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