Activist company

Is Google anti-dalit? Company refused lecture by Dalit activist under pressure from employees

In April this year, Google canceled a conference planned by US-based Dalit activist and Equality Labs executive director Thenmozhi Soundararajan after the company allegedly came under pressure from employees who claimed their “life was in danger” if the activist went ahead. The presentation was to be part of Google’s Diversity Equity Inclusivity (DEI) program for employee awareness.

A Washington Post report found that groups of Google employees were sending mass emails through the company’s intranet, calling Thenmozhi “Hindu phobic” and “anti-Hindu”. The subsequent cancellation of the event is seen as a direct result of a campaign by pro-Hindu groups within the company. The issue also gained momentum after Tanuja Gupta, the chief executive of Google, who had invited the Dalit activist to deliver the speech, resigned in protest after being arrested for inviting her.

According to the report, Google employees who objected to his speech claimed that “their lives were at risk by the discussion of caste equity”. He added that the mail had been sent to a group of South Asian employees numbering 8,000 people. When Gupta posted the link to a petition to speak again, members of the group said caste discrimination does not exist in the United States, people from oppressed castes are less educated, and more. Also, people have called caste equity a form of “reverse discrimination against higher castes” because of India’s reservation system, The News Minute reported.

Thenmozhi, former president of the Ambedkarites Association of North America (AANA), which has chapters in the United States, Mexico and Canada, is a globally recognized anti-caste activist and spearheaded efforts aimed at drawing international attention to social segregation. His nonprofit Equality Labs has been behind several anti-caste campaigns in the South Asian diaspora, including the Cisco caste harassment case that a US court admitted.

“I can’t find the words to express how discriminatory and traumatic Google’s actions were towards its employees and myself, because it illegally canceled a discussion on caste equity. The company must address the casteism within its workforce that allows these attacks to occur and continue,” Thenmozhi said.

Thenmozhi was due to deliver her speech on April 18 to coincide with Dalit History Month, but was told it had been postponed. She later wrote to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, saying she was troubled by this development and that her speech would only help Google employees better understand the issue.

“Caste discrimination is bad for business and creates dangerous and hostile workplaces. In India, one of the biggest markets for Google, caste-oppressed people make up key to attracting the next billion users,” she wrote.

Written to the CEO of Google

In the letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Thenmozhi said that they are both Tamils, while he comes from a Brahmin background, she is from a Dalit family.

“Even a consultant like me faces caste slurs in the company you run. Imagine what a caste-oppressed worker would face if they dared to speak up,” she said.

She added that every caste-oppressed individual must have the same opportunity.

Another employee forced to quit

However, his speech was canceled after a group of employees resisted it. Additionally, Tanuja Gupta, the Google employee coordinating with Thenmozhi to organize her speech, was also targeted, with her colleagues doxxed online.

In a statement, Equality Labs condemned the incident, calling Google’s attitude castist and questioning the legitimacy of its inclusiveness and diversity initiative. The organization said Google had “allowed bigotry and caste harassment to plague the company.”

Equality Labs said members of Tanuja Gupta’s team “were doxxed due to the scheduled discussion and their safety was compromised.” He added that Google management retaliated against Gupta with an HR investigation and stern action that forced her to resign. Incidentally, Gupta was one of the organizers of Google’s 2018 walkout over the company’s method of handling sexual harassment cases. She is also the founder of Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration, a campaign that forced the company to reverse its policy of having employees waive their right to go to court in disputes with their employers.

In his farewell letter to Google, Gupta wrote that employees had escalated their concerns about him for scheduling the conversation. When Thenmozhi’s conference was initially canceled, Tanuja had requested that it take place. His plea was later reported to the company for violation of standards. She said the company informed her that she had violated the people manager code of conduct by inviting Thenmozhi and that she would receive a warning letter due to which her performance rating would be lowered and affect the remuneration. Tanuja quit after that.

“Having been with the company for 11 years, I had many reasons to leave, but this was the only one I needed. By doing my job and promoting caste equity in the company, I ‘saw four women of color harassed and silenced,’ Gupta wrote in her resignation email. “The reality is that these are not isolated events, this is a pattern.”

After Google canceled his chat, Gupta hosted a separate chat personally with Thenmozhi where the two discussed caste discrimination and the work of Equality Labs in the United States.

In 2018, an Equality Labs survey of 1,500 caste people in the United States showed that 52% of Dalits and 25% of Shudras feared their caste would be “exposed”. The survey findings also revealed that 60% of Dalits experienced caste-based discrimination and two out of three said they had been abused in the workplace.

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