Why global companies must pay attention to caste discrimination among Indian H1B workers


In the sacred ancient Indian mythology, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Hindu God Krishna describes four divisions of society to his friend and devotee, Arjuna. According to the Gita (4.13), Krishna says that he is the creator of everything and there are four divisions of social order. (The Bhagavad-Gita As It Is; International Society for Krishna Consciousness.)

  1. Brahmanas- Intelligent and good
  2. Kshatriyas- The administrators, the warrior class
  3. Vaisyas- The merchants
  4. Sudras- Labor class, the ignorant

The majority of Indians who immigrate to the United States belong to the upper castes. However, in recent years, the influx of lower caste people called Dalits, who fall below the Sudras in the social order has created a caste discrimination problem among Indian H1B workers in North America.

According to Equality Labs, an organization focused on ending the caste system, Dalits were originally asked to do bonded labor and agriculture and menial tasks like manual scavenging. They have long been called “untouchables” in Indian society.

Over the years, the United States import of highly skilled Indians in the H1-B visa category has led to them bringing in their ancient thought process as well. In India, the caste system is passed on to successive generations through an oral tradition and is firmly entrenched in the minds of most Indians, especially the higher castes. Indoctrinated by familial pressures, upper caste Indians bring a sense of superiority as they arrive in the US on H-1 B visas.

Upper castes form their own groups and sub-groups within organizations and have been widely accused of discriminating against Dalits who form around 3% to 5% of the Indian diaspora in the US.

Dalit’s are discriminated by upper caste Hindus based on their skin color, their last names and the absence of the Juneau, a white thread around a person’s body worn during an initiation ceremony as a Brahman.

It’s fairly easy to find out if you are a Brahman by gently tapping the shoulders of an Indian male and if you can feel the Juneau, you can understand that the person belongs to the upper caste. Another trick is to ask if the person is a vegetarian as most Brahmans are vegetarians.

A recent case from the State of California versus Cisco shows how alleged discrimination was conducted against a Dalit employee by his upper caste superiors at work. This lawsuit alleges that Cisco engaged in unlawful employment practices on the basis of religion, ancestry, national origin, ethnicity and race/color against a Dalit employee.

The allegation adds that a hostile work environment was created and less pay and fewer opportunities for employment were offered to the employee. This 22-page litigation has prompted several other Indian Dalits working at Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Dell, Netflix and Uber to file lawsuits against employers for alleged workplace discrimination. (Silicon Valley has a caste discrimination problem. Vice News. https://www.vice.com/en/article/3azjp5/silicon-valley-has-a-caste-discrimination-problem)

Silicon Valley is dominated mostly by White men followed by Indians since 70% of the H-1 B visas are taken up predominantly by Indians. Micro-aggressions, regional favoritism at the workplace based on language, caste and color are rampant especially in teams that are predominantly Indian. It’s fairly common for Indian managers to have their underlings work on Saturdays and Sundays even as their employers, global brands of repute, remain silent.

Moreover, tight-knit groups of Indians bind themselves together and practice the same old caste system that they had followed in their home country for years. There is the North-South divide, and rampant regional favoritism in hiring at workplaces dominated by Indian teams.

Ironically, American HR professionals in large multinational companies that claim Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) on websites do not have the cultural competency nor a basic understanding of India’s multiracial society.

According to reports, Dalits who perform extremely well in their jobs have been “patted on the back” to check if they had their Juneau on to make sure they were not Brahmins. (India’s engineers have thrived in Silicon Valley. So has its caste system. https://www.inquirer.com/business/indian-caste-system-silicon-valley-microsoft-apple-oracle-facebook-20201029.html)

To make matters worse, Dalits who come out of India’s famed Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) are stamped before they arrive in US immigration points by upper caste Hindus who blame them for having received admissions through affirmative action.

So, what can multinational companies do to handle this issue that has been corrupted at the source? Here are a few tips:

  1. Ensure that American HR practitioners have a basic understanding of India and its societal order.
  2. Make the hiring process blind. Nine out of ten times, long last names of Indians can reveal anything from caste to family status and even wealth.
  3. Try not to seek counsel from existing H1Bs in your firm even if they are well-placed, instead, find neutral sources that can help you.
  4. Ensure that hiring committees include a diverse mix of people

Disclaimer

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making decisions.

9 tips to transition from home to office


You are going to transition from working from home to getting back to the office. Here are tips to make this transition easy.

  1. 1. Know that you are adaptable

Human beings are resilient and we can adapt to changing environmental conditions. We can work from home, from the office and anywhere in between. Our bodies and minds will adjust to changing circumstances and adaptability has been a key to our success. So, don’t worry and you will soon get used to your old circumstances.

2. Ease your transition and create a feeling that you are at home

Over the last 18 months, we have enjoyed the comforts of home, missed water cooler conversations, gossip, and frequent interruptions from annoying colleagues. So, how do we adjust to the comeback? Well, creating an ambience similar to your home office can help even though you will never be able to replace that. Use another study lamp, have a cozy sweater behind your chair, get soothing music you can listen to and of course bring some small paintings and memorabilia that will make you feel at home. And, remember that leg rest you had as it will be really useful and give you a feeling you are still there!

3. The dreaded commute is back but take it easy

Yes, the dreaded commute is back. I live in Houston and I can feel the discomfort of sitting in traffic and dealing with grumpy drivers! The average commute for me is around 45 minutes door to door and I listen to podcasts and audio books just to keep my mind away from the polluted, maddening traffic that can wear us all down. Just relax, occupy your mind with distractions like serene music, a comical podcast or learn something new.

4. You will miss the morning walk around the block

Yes, we will all miss the walk around the block and the opportunity to meet neighbors who you thought were dead and gone. You will miss the camaraderie of folks wishing you good morning, and instead will have to return to sullen-faced bosses and their antics. Know that they might have been transformed too and let’s hope that they return smiling to a new workplace.

5. Love thyself

Always, love thyself. There is no substitute for that and this a good time for us to recharge, and rethink our priorities in life. What is my purpose in life? What am I uniquely talented in? Should I just be answering calls and pushing files all my life? Opportunities are endless and if you love yourself you will find a career that is meaningful to you. Take care of your happiness, be a little self-centered and there is nothing wrong with it. Everything begins with loving oneself.

6. Are you a leader? Show empathy and overcommunicate.

If you are a leader, expect shock and awe. The days of running an office like the Mughal empire will no longer work because your underlings have learned a lot of new tricks staying at home over the last 18 months. Empathy and trust have become new key words replacing metrics and goals. So, just relax your suits, be a little bit more empathetic and throw your jelly bean counters over the window. Millennials are going to make you work differently and you will soon learn how to be human and efficient at the same time.

7. Some of us may never return and it’s okay

Life has been good for some of us working from home. We’ve reached that point of serenity that missing it is like not attaining nirvana after having been so close to it. If you’ve re-careered or decided to stop working full-time, it’s okay. Some of you may not miss the office at all. The choice between serenity and a sense of bewilderment is yours, after all!

8. The pandemic has not gone anywhere

Don’t think that the pandemic has gone anywhere. The virus might be clinging on to your cubicle, or floating around you, so just take all the safety precautions you can. And, offices will have lots of disinfectants and new measures to keep you safe.

9. The hybrid workplace is here to stay

The lone benefit of the pandemic has been the global ratification for a hybrid workplace. The old factory model of running organizations has been disrupted and despite the absence of Karl Marx, we’ve all started to unionize. We want to enrich our lives other than just being focused on work all the time. Well, the suits will make strategies to go back to the barking order days but they themselves have realized that its not possible. Employees are seeking newer ways to work and sprawling workplaces will need to reconfigure spaces to make things work.

The office as the center of the community and prime driver of tax revenue is dead.