California Nears Historic First in Banning Caste Discrimination

In a decisive move, the California State Assembly passed a legislation on Monday that would extend protection against discrimination to include caste. This groundbreaking bill marks a significant step forward in the fight against caste discrimination, a battle that has been long and hard for many individuals, including one former Google employee.

Tanuja Gupta, a former senior manager at Google, testified before the state assembly judiciary committee in July, emphasizing the need for anti-discrimination laws to recognize and address caste discrimination. Gupta left her high-profile job at Google a year ago due to concerns over the lack of action taken to combat caste discrimination in the workplace. She made headlines when she attempted to organize a talk on caste discrimination, a discussion that was ultimately postponed after multiple Google employees expressed feeling unsafe. Gupta spoke out against Google’s response to her whistleblowing, alleging that her performance rating was lowered, her compensation reduced, and her eligibility for future promotions revoked. Additionally, she revealed that HR did not adequately address discriminatory remarks and claims within the company.

Gupta’s experiences shed light on the numerous workers who have faced similar forms of discrimination in various companies. To raise awareness of the caste system and the struggles faced by Dalits, she had invited Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the founder of Equality Labs, a non-profit Dalit civil rights organization, to speak in 2022 as part of a Dalit History Month educational talk. However, this event never materialized, further underscoring the obstacles hindering efforts to combat caste discrimination.

Dalits, also known as “untouchables,” occupy the lowest rung of the 3,000-year-old Indian social hierarchy. Gupta stressed that true diversity can only be achieved through a comprehensive understanding of different backgrounds, including caste. Despite the allegations brought against her following the canceled talk, Gupta denies publicly naming the employees who complained to HR about the event and the unsafe working environment. She firmly believes that the subsequent investigation conducted against her was a form of retaliation.

In response to the investigation, Gupta filed a complaint with Alphabet, Google’s parent company, urging them to thoroughly investigate the allegations of retaliation and worker safety violations. However, Gupta’s complaint yielded a response that denied any discrimination or wrongdoing, leaving her unsatisfied with the outcome. Google argued that the allegations were not without basis, as specific conduct and internal posts had made some employees feel targeted. Gupta also filed a retaliation claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to address her concerns regarding caste discrimination. The EEOC investigation is still ongoing.

Despite Gupta’s efforts and the attention drawn to her case, Google has yet to include caste as a protected category in their anti-discrimination policies or conduct a talk on caste equity. Nonetheless, the tech giant maintains that caste discrimination has no place in their workplace. Gupta, however, remains disappointed by Google’s lack of action in this regard.

Gupta’s experiences have led her down a new path. She is currently pursuing a law degree in New York and has played an instrumental role in establishing the Caste Equity Legal Task Force, a national coalition composed of lawyers, professors, and law students that aims to combat caste discrimination.

Reflecting on her personal journey, Gupta shared that she experienced a myriad of emotions, including humiliation. She expressed her naivety in believing that she could effect change within the system, only to have her efforts met with backlash. Nevertheless, she is heartened by the growing recognition that discrimination, in any form, is unjust. California has a unique opportunity to lead the way in this fight, and the bill will return to the assembly for a revote before potentially reaching the governor’s desk.

Overall, the passage of this legislation signifies a decisive move in the ongoing fight against caste discrimination in California. Gupta’s experiences and her unwavering commitment to workers’ rights have shed light on the urgent need for change. As the bill progresses through the legislative process, it brings hope to individuals who have long suffered due to caste discrimination and sets a potential precedent for the recognition of caste as a protected category in other states.

Related Articles

Back to top button