Delhi: A Dalit civil rights organisation based in California, Equality Labs, has accused tech giant Google of allowing “caste bigotry and harassment to run rampant in the company”.
The allegation was made after Dalit rights activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan, founder and executive director of the organisation, was not allowed to go ahead with a scheduled talk to Google News employees in April as part of the Dalit History Month.
According to a 2 June report in The Washington Post, company employees started spreading “disinformation” about Soundararajan, including allegations that she was “Hindu-phobic” and “anti-Hindu”. The information was based on documents “as well as interviews with Soundararajan and current Google employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity”.
“During this time, opponents to caste equity internally circulated disinformation about Soundararajan and Equality Labs to derail the civil rights event until its ultimate cancellation,” Equality Labs said in a statement.
Soundararajan is believed to have written to Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking for her talk to be allowed, but without success.
Google News senior manager Tanuja Gupta, who had invited Soundararajan to speak, has resigned over the cancellation of the talk.
“Retaliation is a normalised Google practice to handle internal criticism, and women take the hit,” she wrote in her farewell letter, the report in The Post noted.
“In the process of doing my job and promoting caste equity at the company, I saw four women of colour harassed and silenced. The reality is that these are not isolated events, this is a pattern,” Gupta said in her letter.
Google has denied the charges, with spokesperson Shannon Newberry telling The Post that “caste discrimination has no place in our workplace”. “We also have a very clear, publicly shared policy against retaliation and discrimination in our workplace,” she added.
“We also made the decision to not move forward with the proposed talk which — rather than bringing our community together and raising awareness — was creating division and rancor,” Newberry was quoted as having said.
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Complaints from employees
Two days before Soundararajan’s talk, seven Google employees had emailed company leadership and Gupta using “inflammatory language about how they felt harmed and how they felt their lives were at risk by the discussion of caste equity”, The Post report said, citing Gupta’s emails.
Complaints from these employees “copied content from known misinformation sites to malign the reputation of the speaker”, the emails reportedly added. These included sites and organisations “that have targeted academics in the United States and Canada who are critical of Hindu nationalism or caste hierarchy”, The Post report added.
Soundararajan, on 27 April, wrote to Pichai and Google Chief Diversity Officer Melonie Parker, saying she was “troubled by Google’s postponement of the timely presentation I had been collaborating for the past three months with Google News staff about caste equity and newsrooms”.
She added that “caste is significantly impacting tech companies like Google”, and that her organisation Equality Labs had been contacted by Google employees who had faced caste discrimination.
In the letter, she reminded Pichai of his “moral obligation”. “You and I are both Tamil. You are from a Brahmin family, and I am from a Dalit family. In Madurai, where you are from, Dalit people like myself face terrible violence… As someone with caste privilege, you are now in the role to do the right thing to address this issue…” her letter said.
Soundararajan told The Post that if Pichai “he can make passionate statements about Google’s [diversity equity and inclusion] commitments in the wake of George Floyd, he absolutely should be making those same commitments to the context he comes from where he is someone of privilege”.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
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