Dalit artists join hands with Alphabet Workers’ Union to highlight caste discrimination

Ritu Jha-

Dalit artists from various organizations based in the US and India along with the Alphabet Workers’ Union will hold a virtual concert on August 10 to give voice to a global call for caste equity. Titled Radical Rhythms: A Global Call for Caste Equity, the concert is being promoted as a unique collaboration between tech workers and the Dalit community.

“It is a historic occasion. Never before have tech workers reached out and collaborated with the Dalit community in this manner,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Dalit rights activist and co-founder of Equality Labs. She spoke to indica over the phone.

She said, “The call of this [concert] is to increase awareness of the issue of caste-oppressed workers in corporations, to demand that Google understand caste as a category of discrimination and to support tech workers that are raising petitions vocalizing this issue.”

On April 18 this year, Thenmozhi was scheduled to deliver a lecture at Alphabet’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program for employee sensitization. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, organizes DEI programs to address race, gender and sexuality. However, days before the talk, Alphabet canceled her participation.

Thenmozhi wrote to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, “I cannot find the words to express just how traumatic and discriminatory Google’s actions were towards its employees and myself, as the company unlawfully cancelled a talk about caste equity. Google must address the casteism within its workforce that allows for these attacks to occur and continue.”

According to Thenmozhi, over 1600 Alphabet Workers Union members are expected to attend the concert to highlight work place safety and caste equity.

Alphabet is not the only firm that finds itself in the middle of a caste equality storm. Networking giant Cisco faces a lawsuit in a San Jose federal court where California regulators have sued the company after an Indian-American employee complained of being harassed by two managers because he was from a lower Indian caste than them. Former Cisco engineering managers Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella also are defendants in the lawsuit, which accuses them of harassment for internally enforcing the caste hierarchy. The lawsuit accuses Cisco of not taking appropriate action to prevent the alleged discrimination.

In June, Google had responded to a query by indica stating that “Caste discrimination has no place in our workplace.” However, Google has not yet added caste as a discrimination category.

When indica asked Thenmozhi about her letter to Pichai, she said she has not received any response from the internet search giant. “Google never responded,” she said. “Over 1600 workers asking the company to add caste as a discrimination category and they want to further this with their support for this concert.”

She added, “This concert is of love and unity and power building. There is so much harassment and discrimination on this issue… and people are afraid to talk in open.”

According to a press release, Equality Labs and Alphabet Workers Union are collaborating with Neelam Social and the Ambedkar Association of North America to host the concert.

Thenmozhi said, “Wherever South Asians go, they take caste with them. We have been fighting for caste equity for years and continue to do so with our partners. We won’t stop until all are protected from caste-based discrimination in their places of education, work and recreation.”

Pa Ranjith, well-known filmmaker and founder of Neelam Social, said, “People often me why I always talk about caste. The thing is, caste is the main issue for several Indians. Wherever I go, my caste follows me. I’m marked only by my caste identity. It’s been my personal struggle for years to get past it.”

According to Yousif Kelaita, a member of the Alphabet Workers Union, “The fight for the civil rights of caste-oppressed people is a workers’ fight. Caste-oppressed workers have the right to a safe workplace and this is why AWU is committed to this fight. Caste should be recognized as a protected class and be included in anti-harassment policies within our industry, and it should be possible to call attention to discrimination without facing retaliation.”

Maya Kamble, president, Ambedkar Association of North America said, “Ambedkar Association of North America is a Dalit civil rights organization whose members represent the caste oppressed communities in North America. With membership across the US, many of our organizations work with tech workers and contractors who face caste discrimination within the North American IT sector. Equality Labs’ recent report has findings showing that two of every three Dalits are known to face workplace harassment. There is a blatant lack of competency that corporate America has in recognizing and providing redressal for employee grievances related to caste. We hope through Radical Rhythms and other initiatives, we can create change and protect the interests of caste oppressed workers across the sector.”

Prem Pariyar, a Nepali Dalit rights activist based in California and the lead organizer of the Cal State University Caste Equity Movement, said, “We need to come together as workers to address caste across the world. As a Dalit worker who faced caste discrimination as a restaurant worker, grocery work, and later as a student. I have seen how ugly the face of caste can be in my homeland of Nepal and in my new home of the United States. But I also have seen the power of interfaith,inter-caste, and multiracial coalitions to meet caste discrimination with the call for caste equity. From the Cal State University to Google, the movement for caste equity is not going anywhere and we ask everyone to join us.”

Alphabet had not immediately responded to queries sent by indica. We will update the story as soon as we hear from them.

The show’s line-up features the following artists:

  1. Isaivani, a Gaana artist
  2. Seyilrani and Lalitha, Oppari artists
  3. Sumeet Samos, writer and anti-caste rapper
  4. Rapper Mahi G, anti-caste rapper
  5. Abisha, filmmaker and rapper
  6. Vipin Tatad, rapper
  7. Ginni Mahi, folk musician

    The speakers at the show include:
    Pa Ranjith
    , filmmaker and founder of Neelam Cultural Center
    Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Dalit rights activist, hip hop musician and technologist
    Chandra Shekhar Azad: Dalit leader from Azad Samaj Party and Bhim Army
    Tech workers from Alphabet Workers Union
    Maya Kamble, Dalit tech worker and president, Ambedkar Association of North America
    Prem Pariyar, Nepali Dalit Rights Activist
    Will Wiltschko, California Trade Justice Association