US Ambedkarite Groups Extend Support to Cisco Employee Who Allegedly Faced Caste Discrimination

In a statement, several anti-caste groups based in North America said that caste discrimination is antithetical to the American values of freedom, democracy and justice.

New Delhi: A coalition of anti-caste organisations based in North America have expressed support to the Indian-American employee of Cisco who has allegedly faced caste discrimination at the hands of two managers, saying that the technology conglomerate has not treated the issue with urgency.

A Reuters report earlier this week said that California regulators are suing Cisco Systems Inc, accusing it of discriminating against a Dalit Indian-American employee and “allowing him to be harassed by two managers”.

On Friday, several anti-caste organisations said Cisco’s HR has not taken the issue as a matter of urgency and is instead “working against providing justice”. “This is seriously alarming and concerns us collectively,” the statement, endorsed by Ambedkar International Centre, Ambedkar International Mission, Ambedkarites International Mission Society of Canada, Ambedkar Association of North America, Ambedkar Buddhist Association of Texas, Boston Study Group and Chetna Association of Canada, says. Many of these organisations have been involved in anti-caste lobbying for over two decades, the statement says.

With an increasing number of South Asian people occupying ‘strategic positions in the American corporate bastion’, fears that caste will play a role in all walks of life are coming true, the statement says.

“As Dr [B.R.] Ambedkar had envisaged this in 1916 ‘if Hindus migrate to other regions of on Earth, Indian caste system would become a world problem. A century later we are facing the monster of caste staring at us with abominable repulsions,” the statement adds.

The organisations say it is time for caste to become a “legislative matter” and appealed to the US government to take necessary measures to penalise caste-based discrimination. “Caste discrimination is the antithesis of the American values of freedom, democracy and justice,” they said.

Private and publicly funded organisations should fully embrace an anti-caste framework in their work ethic, the organisations said, adding that they would be ready to offer any advice and consultation to improve their understanding of caste and caste-based discrimination.

“Let us commit to outlawing a practice so old and traumatic that it needs to be dusted off immediately,” they said.

Caste and US employment law

While US employment law does not specifically bar caste-based discrimination, California‘s Department of Fair Employment and Housing contends in the lawsuit that the Hindu faith’s lingering caste system is based on protected classes such as religion.

A Cisco spokesperson said the network gear maker followed its process to investigate employee concerns in this case and would “vigorously defend itself” against the lawsuit. “Cisco is committed to an inclusive workplace for all,” the spokesperson said. “We were fully in compliance with all laws as well as our own policies.”

In July 2018, the UK government retreated from its promise to make caste-based discrimination unlawlful, allegedly under pressure from Hindu groups. The government justified the move based on “extremely low” number of cases and said caste is “difficult to define”.