Caste in California: Tech giants confront ancient Indian hierarchy

Caste in California: Tech giants confront ancient Indian hierarchy
Customers shop at The Apple Store at the Towson Town Center mall, the first of the company's retail locations in the US where workers voted over the weekend to unionize. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 15 August 2022

Caste in California: Tech giants confront ancient Indian hierarchy

Caste in California: Tech giants confront ancient Indian hierarchy
  • Wake up call in tech sector after a low-caste engineer at Cisco Systems accused two higher-caste bosses of blocking his career
  • Caste discrimination was outlawed in India over 70 years ago, yet bias persists, according to several studies in recent years

OAKLAND, California : America’s tech giants are taking a modern-day crash course in India’s ancient caste system, with Apple emerging as an early leader in policies to rid Silicon Valley of a rigid hierarchy that’s segregated Indians for generations.
Apple, the world’s biggest listed company, updated its general employee conduct policy about two years ago to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of caste, which it added alongside existing categories such as race, religion, gender, age and ancestry.
The inclusion of the new category, which hasn’t been previously reported, goes beyond US discrimination laws, which do not explicitly ban casteism.
The update came after the tech sector — which counts India as its top source of skilled foreign workers — received a wake-up call in June 2020 when California’s employment regulator sued Cisco Systems on behalf of a low-caste engineer who accused two higher-caste bosses of blocking his career.
Cisco, which denies wrongdoing, says an internal probe found no evidence of discrimination and that some of the allegations are baseless because caste is not a legally “protected class” in California. This month an appeals panel rejected the networking company’s bid to push the case to private arbitration, meaning a public court case could come as early as next year.
The dispute — the first US employment lawsuit about alleged casteism — has forced Big Tech to confront a millennia-old hierarchy where Indians’ social position has been based on family lineage, from the top Brahmin “priestly” class to the Dalits, shunned as “untouchables” and consigned to menial labor.
Since the suit was filed, several activist and employee groups have begun seeking updated US discrimination legislation — and have also called on tech companies to change their own policies to help fill the void and deter casteism.
Their efforts have produced patchy results, according to a Reuters review of policy across the US industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of workers from India.
“I am not surprised that the policies would be inconsistent because that’s almost what you would expect when the law is not clear,” said Kevin Brown, a University of South Carolina law professor studying caste issues, citing uncertainty among executives over whether caste would ultimately make it into US statutes.
“I could imagine that parts of ... (an) organization are saying this makes sense, and other parts are saying we don’t think taking a stance makes sense.”
Apple’s main internal policy on workplace conduct, which was seen by Reuters, added reference to caste in the equal employment opportunity and anti-harassment sections after September 2020.
Apple confirmed that it “updated language a couple of years ago to reinforce that we prohibit discrimination or harassment based on caste.” It added that training provided to staff also explicitly mentions caste.
“Our teams assess our policies, training, processes and resources on an ongoing basis to ensure that they are comprehensive,” it said. “We have a diverse and global team, and are proud that our policies and actions reflect that.”
Elsewhere in tech, IBM told Reuters that it added caste, which was already in India-specific policies, to its global discrimination rules after the Cisco lawsuit was filed, though it declined to give a specific date or a rationale.
IBM’s only training that mentions caste is for managers in India, the company added.
Several companies do not specifically reference caste in their main global policy, including Amazon, Dell , Facebook owner Meta, Microsoft and Google. Reuters reviewed each of the policies, some of which are only published internally to employees.
The companies all told Reuters that they have zero tolerance for caste prejudice and, apart from Meta which did not elaborate, said such bias would fall under existing bans on discrimination by categories such as ancestry and national originon policy.

Casteism outlawed in India
Caste discrimination was outlawed in India over 70 years ago, yet bias persists, according to several studies in recent years, including one that found Dalit people were underrepresented in higher-paying jobs. Debate over the hierarchy is contentious in India and abroad, with the issue intertwined with religion, and some people saying discrimination is now rare.
Government policies reserving seats for lower-caste students at top Indian universities have helped many land tech jobs in the West in recent years.
Reuters spoke to about two dozen Dalit tech workers in the United States who said discrimination had followed them overseas. They said that caste cues, including their last names, hometowns, diets or religious practices, had led to colleagues bypassing them in hiring, promotions and social activities.
Reuters could not independently verify the allegations of the workers, who all spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they feared harming their careers. Two said they had quit their jobs over what they viewed as casteism.
Some staff groups, including the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) at Google’s parent company, say explicit mention of caste in corporate rules would open the door to companies investing in areas such as data collection and training at the same levels as they do to protect other groups.
“Significant caste discrimination exists in the United States,” said Mayuri Raja, a Google software engineer who is a member of the AWU and advocates for lower-caste colleagues.
Over 1,600 Google workers demanded the addition of caste to the main workplace code of conduct worldwide in a petition, seen by Reuters, which they emailed to CEO Sundar Pichai last month and resent last week after no response.
Google reiterated to Reuters that caste discrimination fell under national origin, ancestry and ethnic discrimination. It declined to elaborate further on its policies.

‘Not good for business’
Adding caste to a general code of conduct is not unheard of.
The World Wide Web Consortium, an industry standards body partly based in Massachusetts, introduced it in July 2020. California State University and the state Democratic Party have followed over the past two years.
In May this year, California’s employment regulator, the Civil Rights Department, added caste to its example equal employment opportunity policy for employers.
Yet the move by Apple, a $2.8 trillion behemoth with more than 165,000 full-time employees globally, looms large.
The iPhone maker’s fair hiring policy now states that Apple “does not discriminate in recruiting, training, hiring, or promoting on the basis of” 18 categories, including “race, color, ancestry, national origin, caste, religion, creed, age” plus disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.
By contrast, many employers are hesitant to go beyond laws with their primary policies, according to three employment attorneys including Koray Bulut, a partner at Goodwin Procter.
“Most companies simply quote from the federal and state statutes that list the protected categories,” Bulut said.
Some companies have, however, gone further in secondary policies that govern limited operations or serve only as loose guidelines.
Caste is explicitly written into Dell’s Global Social Media Policy, for example, and in Amazon sustainability team’s Global Human Rights Principles and Google’s code of conduct for suppliers.
Amazon and Dell confirmed they had also begun mentioning caste in anti-bias presentations for at least some new hires outside India. They declined to specify when, why and how broadly they made the addition, though Dell said it made the change after the Cisco lawsuit was filed.
The companies’ presentations include explanations of caste as an unwanted social structure that exists in parts of the world, according to a Reuters review of some of the online training, with the Dell material referencing a recent lawsuit “from the headlines.”
John-Paul Singh Deol, lead employment attorney at Dhillon Law Group in San Francisco, said that only including caste in training and guidelines amounted to “giving lip service” to the issue because their legal force is questionable.
This characterization was rejected by Janine Yancey, CEO of Emtrain, which sells anti-bias training to about 550 employers, and a longtime employment attorney.
“No company wants to have employee turnover, lack of productivity and conflict — that’s just not good for business,” she said.
Yet explicitly referencing caste would likely invite an increased number of HR complaints alleging it as a bias, Yancey added. “Whenever you’re going to call out something specifically, you’re exponentially increasing your caseload,” she said.
Apple declined to say whether any complaints had been brought under its caste provision.
South Carolina law professor Brown expects no immediate resolution to the debate over of whether companies should reference caste.
“This is an issue that ultimately will be resolved by the courts,” he said. “The area right now is unsettled.” 

Decoder

Casteism

It is a millennia-old hierarchy in India where social position has been based on family lineage, from the top Brahmin “priestly” class to the Dalits, shunned as “untouchables” and consigned to menial labor. While caste discrimination was outlawed in India over 70 years ago (though studies say bias persists), it has gotten exported abroad in some way by members of the Indian diaspora. In the US, the tech sector — which counts India as its top source of skilled foreign workers — received a wake-up call in June 2020 when California’s employment regulator sued Cisco Systems on behalf of a low-caste engineer who accused two higher-caste bosses of blocking his career. 


Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief
Updated 58 min 39 sec ago

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief
  • The six suspects include three police officers and three people responsible for the match and its security
  • The announcement came as anger grew over the police response to a pitch invasion

MALANG, Indonesia: Indonesia’s police chief on Thursday said six people were facing criminal charges over a football stadium disaster that killed 131 people at the weekend.
“Based on the investigation and sufficient evidence, we have determined six suspects,” national police chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo told a press conference.
The six suspects include three police officers and three people responsible for the match and its security, including the head of Arema FC’s organizing committee and one of the club’s security officers, he said.
The announcement came as anger grew over the police response to a pitch invasion.
Officers reacted by firing tear gas into packed stands as fans of Arema FC tried to approach players following their defeat to fierce rivals Persebaya Surabaya on Saturday evening.
Hundreds of people fled for small exits, resulting in a crush that left many trampled or suffocating to death.
Police described the pitch invasion as a riot and said two officers were killed, but survivors accused them of overreacting.
Officers responded with force, kicking and hitting fans with batons, according to witnesses and footage, pushing the spectators back into the stands where many would die after tear gas was fired.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced an investigation after the tragedy and called for a safety review of all stadiums.


UK government talks tough on immigration — again

UK government talks tough on immigration — again
Updated 06 October 2022

UK government talks tough on immigration — again

UK government talks tough on immigration — again
  • "It's not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders," said Home Secretary Suella Braverman x
  • "It's not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders," said Home Secretary Suella Braverman The 42-year-old anti-EU right-winger pointedly vowed to get tough on asylum seekers who do not "meet the needs of the country"

LONDON: Accusing asylum seekers of “abusing the system” and urging the need to “take back control,” the UK government is once again talking tough on immigration.
But its latest pledge to reduce crossings from northern France in small boats comes with a blatant promise to defy international conventions.
“It’s not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders, it’s not bigoted to say that we have too many asylum seekers who are abusing the system,” said Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
The stance earned Braverman, whose parents emigrated to Britain from Kenya and Mauritius in the 1960s, a standing ovation at this week’s Conservative party’s annual conference.
The 42-year-old anti-EU right-winger, who has been in the job for the past month, pointedly vowed to get tough on asylum seekers who do not “meet the needs of the country.”
“If you deliberately enter the United Kingdom illegally from a safe country, you should be swiftly returned to your home country or relocated to Rwanda. That is where your asylum claim will be considered,” she said.
Successive Conservative governments since 2010 have been promising to drastically reduce the number of migrants but to no avail.
Since the beginning of the year, a record 33,500 people have crossed the Channel in small boats.
More than half of them came from Afghanistan (18 percent), Albania (18 percent) or Iran (15 percent), according to the Home Office.
Since 2018, Iranians and Iraqis have accounted for almost half of all migrants intercepted on the route.
Zoe Gardner, an expert on British migration and asylum systems, said while the pro-Brexit Tories have never managed to reduce immigration, they have made a tougher for asylum seekers to settle.
“For a long time, it (immigration policy) has been a way to gain support, when every other area of policy seems to be a failure for them,” she told AFP.
“Every time the government of Boris Johnson had a bad week in the newspapers, you can be sure they would announce another plan to target immigrants just to distract people.”
The strategy, though, is in danger of running out of steam, she added.
Britons are overwhelmingly in favor of taking in refugees, according to polls, but are now more concerned about a cost-of-living crisis.
Proposing to ban access to asylum would be a violation of the UN Refugee Convention to which Britain is a signatory.
It states that a migrant can travel in any way he or she wishes — or can — to a country to seek refuge, without being harmed by the mode of arrival.
For some experts, such a ban would result in court action, just as it did when the government attempted to deport the first batch of failed asylum seekers to Rwanda.
In June, a plane bound for Kigali was grounded after last-minute legal challenges in the English courts, and a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights.
Braverman, a former attorney general and successor to another hard-liner Priti Patel, blasted the ruling of the “foreign court,” which Britain helped set up after World War II.
She told conference delegates with a smile that her “dream” for Christmas would be to see “a front page of The Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda.”
According to Braverman’s own department, 94 percent of the 50,000 or so migrants who arrived in the UK across the Channel between January 2018 and June 2022 applied for asylum.
Some 82 percent of those applicants were still waiting for a decision, but the majority who have received a response were successful.
“We are talking about people with good reason to seek asylum in UK, with no other way of doing so because the government has closed the majority of other options,” said Daniel Sohege, a refugee law specialist who heads the association Stand For All.
As the law currently stands, a migrant must be physically in the UK to start the asylum process.
But there is “no way” that London would allow them to arrive in the country and seek refuge, Zoe Gardner said.
The UK also relies on its island status and believes that it does not have to take in migrants who have traveled through other so-called safe countries.
With this impossible equation for refugees, “the UK receives fewer asylum applications than France, Germany or Italy,” said Gardner.


North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired
Updated 06 October 2022

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired
  • The latest missiles were launched 22 minutes apart from the North’s capital region

SEOUL/TOKYO: South Korea scrambled fighter jets after North Korean warplanes staged an apparent bombing drill on Thursday, Seoul’s defense ministry said, as allied warships held missile defense drills and Pyongyang fired off the latest in a series of ballistic missiles.

The rare bombing drill by at least eight North Korean fighter jets and four bombers prompted the South to deploy 30 fighters. The warplanes swarmed each side of the heavily fortified border amid rising tensions over a string of missile tests by Pyongyang.

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday in the direction of Japan, just an hour after condemning the repositioning of a US aircraft carrier to the region, and a UN Security Council meeting held in New York.

North Korea has launched about 40 missiles this year, including its largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and appears ready to hold its first nuclear test since 2017, officials in Seoul and Washington have said.

Thursday’s launches followed the return of the carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, to waters off the Korean peninsula, and a UN Security Council meeting held in response to the North’s recent tests.

The missile launch was the sixth in 12 days and the first since North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile (IRBM) over Japan on Tuesday, which prompted joint South Korean and US missile drills in which one weapon crashed and burned.

The launch was reported by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Japanese government.

“This is the sixth time in the short period, just counting the ones from the end of September,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. “This absolutely cannot be tolerated.”

The launch came after North Korea condemned the United States for talking to the United Nations Security Council about Pyongyang’s “just counteraction measures” on joint South Korea-US drills, suggesting its missile tests are a reaction to the allied military moves.

In a statement, the reclusive nation’s foreign ministry also condemned Washington for repositioning the US aircraft carrier off the Korean peninsula, saying it posed a serious threat to the stability of the situation.

The carrier and its strike group of accompanying warships were abruptly redeployed in response to North Korea’s IRBM launch over Japan.

The carrier strike group joined destroyers from South Korea and Japan in maritime missile defense training, the South Korean military said on Thursday.

“This training focuses on mastering detection, tracking and interception procedures through shared target information under a scenario of (North Korea) conducting ballistic missile provocations,” it said in a statement.

A State Department spokesperson said the United States condemned Thursday’s launch as a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and a threat to regional neighbors and the international community.

The spokesperson, however, added that Washington was committed to a diplomatic approach and called on the North to engage in dialogue.

Thursday’s first missile probably flew to an altitude of about 100km and a range of 350km, while the second had an estimated altitude of 50km and covered 800km, probably taking an irregular trajectory, he said.

South Korea’s JCS said the missiles were launched from near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

The United States and its allies have stepped up displays of military force in the region, but there appears little prospect of further international sanctions by the UN Security Council, which has already passed resolutions banning the North’s missile and nuclear development.


Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery

Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery
Updated 06 October 2022

Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery

Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery
  • Attacker Panya Kamrab also kills wife, son before turning gun on himself
  • He had been sacked from the police in January on charges of drug possession

BANGKOK: At least 36 people, most of them children, were killed by an ex-policeman at a preschool daycare center in Thailand’s northeast on Thursday, police and hospital officials said.

The attack took place in the Na Klang area of Nong Bua Lamphu province in the early afternoon.

Authorities at Nong Bua Lamphu Hospital said 24 of those killed were children. A further 12 people were injured in the attack.

Police identified the killer as 34-year-old Panya Kamrab, a former police sergeant who was dismissed from service in January. According to a police report seen by Arab News, he was sacked after being found in possession of narcotics.

Panya is thought to have gone to the daycare center to find his son but when he failed to find the boy he began shooting. He then returned home, where he killed his wife and child.

“He (Panya) was already stressed after going to court to hear the case against him for narcotics possession. When he didn’t see his child, he carried out the attack with a gun and a knife,” local police spokesperson Paisan Luesomboon said.

“He left the children’s development center for his home, which is around 2 kilometers away. He collided with people on the road and also fired at them. He returned home and saw his wife and kid. He then shot them before killing himself.”

Video footage and images shared on social media showed the distraught relatives of the victims standing beside ambulances outside the daycare facility as police and rescuers dealt with the aftermath of the attack.

Another image showed the body of a woman lying beside a motorcycle on a roadside.

It was not immediately clear if the death toll included the killer and his family or the people attacked on the road.

Nong Bua Lamphu is a province in northeastern Thailand, about 500 km from Bangkok.


Two dead, five missing in strikes on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia

Two dead, five missing in strikes on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia
Updated 06 October 2022

Two dead, five missing in strikes on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia

Two dead, five missing in strikes on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia
  • Moscow annexed the region this week, despite not having full control of it

KYIV: At least two people died and five others were missing in attacks on Ukraine’s southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, the region’s governor said Thursday, blaming Russia for the strikes.
The Ukrainian-controlled city is located in the eponymous Zaporizhzhia region, also home to the Russian-occupied nuclear plant that has been the site of heavy shelling.
Moscow annexed the region this week, despite not having full control of it.
“One woman died and another person died in an ambulance,” Ukrainian-appointed governor Oleksandr Starukh said on social media.
He added that at least five people were trapped under the rubble following the attacks.
“Many people” were saved in a rescue operation that was still underway, he said.
Earlier, Starukh posted a photo of a collapsed building with smoke still rising from the wreckage.
He said there were seven attacks fired by Russian forces at “high-rise buildings.”
Last week Ukraine said at least 30 people were killed after a convoy of civilian cars in the Zaporizhzhia region was shelled in an attack Kyiv blamed on Moscow.
Putin on Wednesday finalized the annexation of four Ukrainian territories — Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — but the Kremlin is yet to confirm what areas of those regions are being annexed.
Ukraine’s presidency said Thursday that over the past day 14 people were killed in attacks in the Donetsk region.