Caste in California: Tech Giants Confront Ancient Indian Hierarchy (2023)

America’s tech giants are taking a modern-day crash course in India’s ancient caste system, with Apple emerging as an early leader in policies to rid Silicon Valley of a rigid hierarchy that’s segregated Indians for generations.

Apple, the world’s biggest listed company, updated its general employee conduct policy about two years ago to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of caste, which it added alongside existing categories such as race, religion, gender, age and ancestry.

The inclusion of the new category, which hasn’t been previously reported, goes beyond U.S. discrimination laws, which do not explicitly ban casteism.

The update came after the tech sector — which counts India as its top source of skilled foreign workers — received a wake-up call in June 2020 whenCalifornia’s employment regulator sued Cisco Systems on behalf of a low-caste engineer who accused two higher-caste bosses of blocking his career.

Cisco, which denies wrongdoing, says an internal probe found no evidence of discrimination and that some of the allegations are baseless because caste is not a legally “protected class” inCalifornia. This month an appeals panel rejected the networking company’s bid to push the case to private arbitration, meaning a public court case could come as early as next year.

The dispute — the first U.S. employment lawsuit about alleged casteism — has forced Big Tech to confront a millennia-old hierarchy where Indians’ social position has been based on family lineage, from the top Brahmin “priestly” class to the Dalits, shunned as “untouchables” and consigned to menial labor.

Since the suit was filed, several activist and employee groups have begun seeking updated U.S. discrimination legislation — and have also called on tech companies to change their own policies to help fill the void and deter casteism.

Their efforts have produced patchy results, according to a Reuters review of policy across the U.S. industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of workers from India.

(Video) Caste in California: Tech giants confront ancient Indian hierarchy

“I am not surprised that the policies would be inconsistent because that’s almost what you would expect when the law is not clear,” said Kevin Brown, a University of South Carolina law professor studying caste issues, citing uncertainty among executives over whether caste would ultimately make it into U.S. statutes.

“I could imagine that parts of … (an) organization are saying this makes sense, and other parts are saying we don’t think taking a stance makes sense.”

Apple’s main internal policy on workplace conduct, which was seen by Reuters, added reference to caste in the equal employment opportunity and anti-harassment sections after September 2020.

Apple confirmed that it “updated language a couple of years ago to reinforce that we prohibit discrimination orharassment based on caste.” It added that training provided to staff also explicitly mentions caste.

“Our teams assess our policies, training, processes and resources on an ongoing basis to ensure that they are comprehensive,” it said. “We have a diverse and global team, and are proud that ourpoliciesand actions reflect that.”

Elsewhere in tech, IBM told Reuters that it added caste, which was already in India-specific policies, to its global discrimination rules after the Cisco lawsuit was filed, though it declined to give a specific date or a rationale.

IBM’s only training that mentions caste is for managers in India, the company added.

Several companies do not specifically reference caste in their main global policy, including Amazon, Dell, Facebook owner Meta, Microsoft and Google. Reuters reviewed each of the policies, some of which are only published internally to employees.

The companies all told Reuters that they have zero tolerance for caste prejudice and, apart from Meta which did not elaborate, said such bias would fall under existing bans on discrimination by categories such as ancestry and national originon policy.

(Video) Silicon Valley and Caste. The Truth Uncovered.

Casteism Outlawed in India

Caste discrimination was outlawed in India over 70 years ago, yet bias persists, according to several studies in recent years, including one that found Dalit people were underrepresented in higher-paying jobs. Debate over the hierarchy is contentious in India and abroad, with the issue intertwined with religion, and some people saying discrimination is now rare.

Government policies reserving seats for lower-caste students at top Indian universities have helped many land tech jobs in the West in recent years.

Reuters spoke to about two dozen Dalit tech workers in the United States who said discrimination had followed them overseas. They said that caste cues, including their last names, hometowns, diets or religious practices, had led to colleagues bypassing them in hiring, promotions and social activities.

Reuters could not independently verify the allegations of the workers, who all spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they feared harming their careers. Two said they had quit their jobs over what they viewed as casteism.

Some staff groups, including the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) at Google’s parent company, say explicit mention of caste in corporate rules would open the door to companies investing in areas such as data collection and training at the same levels as they do to protect other groups.

“Significant caste discrimination exists in the United States,” said Mayuri Raja, a Google software engineer who is a member of the AWU and advocates for lower-caste colleagues.

Over 1,600 Google workers demanded the addition of caste to the main workplace code of conduct worldwide in a petition, seen by Reuters, which they emailed to CEO Sundar Pichai last month and resent last week after no response.

Google reiterated to Reuters that caste discrimination fell under national origin, ancestry and ethnic discrimination. It declined to elaborate further on its policies.

‘Not Good for Business’

Adding caste to a general code of conduct is not unheard of.

(Video) Casteism in US universities? California brings Caste based Anti Discrimination Policy | UPSC Exams

The World Wide Web Consortium, an industry standards body partly based in Massachusetts, introduced it in July 2020.CaliforniaState University and the state Democratic Party have followed over the past two years.

In May this year,California’s employment regulator, the Civil Rights Department, added caste to its example equal employment opportunity policy for employers.

Yet the move by Apple, a $2.8 trillion behemoth with more than 165,000 full-time employees globally, looms large.

The iPhone maker’s fair hiring policy now states that Apple “does not discriminate in recruiting, training, hiring, or promoting on the basis of” 18 categories, including “race, color, ancestry, national origin, caste, religion, creed, age” plus disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.

By contrast, many employers are hesitant to go beyond laws with their primary policies, according to three employment attorneys including Koray Bulut, a partner at Goodwin Procter.

“Most companies simply quote from the federal and state statutes that list the protected categories,” Bulut said.

Some companies have, however, gone further in secondary policies that govern limited operations or serve only as loose guidelines.

Caste is explicitly written into Dell’s Global Social Media Policy, for example, and in Amazon sustainability team’s Global Human Rights Principles and Google’s code of conduct for suppliers.

Amazon and Dell confirmed they had also begun mentioning caste in anti-bias presentations for at least some new hires outside India. They declined to specify when, why and how broadly they made the addition, though Dell said it made the change after the Cisco lawsuit was filed.

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The companies’ presentations include explanations of caste as an unwanted social structure that exists in parts of the world, according to a Reuters review of some of the online training, with the Dell material referencing a recent lawsuit “from the headlines.”

John-Paul Singh Deol, lead employment attorney at Dhillon Law Group in San Francisco, said that only including caste in training and guidelines amounted to “giving lip service” to the issue because their legal force is questionable.

This characterization was rejected by Janine Yancey, CEO of Emtrain, which sells anti-bias training to about 550 employers, and a longtime employment attorney.

“No company wants to have employee turnover, lack of productivity and conflict — that’s just not good for business,” she said.

Yet explicitly referencing caste would likely invite an increased number of HR complaints alleging it as a bias, Yancey added.

“Whenever you’re going to call out something specifically, you’re exponentially increasing your caseload,” she said.

Apple declined to say whether any complaints had been brought under its caste provision.

South Carolina law professor Brown expects no immediate resolution to the debate over of whether companies should reference caste.

“This is an issue that ultimately will be resolved by the courts,” he said. “The area right now is unsettled.”

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Who invented the caste hierarchy? ›

The Origins of the Caste System

According to one long-held theory about the origins of South Asia's caste system, Aryans from central Asia invaded South Asia and introduced the caste system as a means of controlling the local populations. The Aryans defined key roles in society, then assigned groups of people to them.

What is the hierarchy of caste? ›

The caste system divides Hindus into four main categories - Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. Many believe that the groups originated from Brahma, the Hindu God of creation.

Which world region was most known for its rigid caste system before 1450? ›

The caste system in India is the paradigmatic ethnographic example of classification of castes. It has its origins in ancient India, and was transformed by various ruling elites in medieval, early-modern, and modern India, especially the Mughal Empire and the British Raj.

How many Indian castes are there? ›

The caste system, as it actually works in India is called jati. The term jati appears in almost all Indian languages and is related to the idea of lineage or kinship group. There are perhaps more than 3000 jatis in India and there is no one all-Indian system of ranking them in order of status.

Is the Indian caste system a hierarchy? ›

The caste system has existed in some form in India for at least 3,000 years. It is a social hierarchy passed down through families, and it can dictate the professions a person can work in as well as aspects of their social lives, including whom they can marry.

Which caste came first in the world? ›

The first group was of the warriors and they were called Rajanya, later they changed its name to Kshatriyas. The second group was of the priests and they were called Brahmanas. These two groups struggled politically for the leadership among the Aryans.

What are the 5 castes? ›

These four castes are the Brahmins (priests, teachers), Kshatriyas (rulers, warriors), Vaishyas (landowners, merchants) and Sudras (servants), and the 5th group is the group of the untouchables, called Dalits.

What are the 5 classes of the Indian caste system? ›

Dating back more than 3,000 years, the caste system divides Hindus into four main categories – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras based on who they were in their past life, their karma, and what family line they come from.

What are the five levels of the Indian caste system? ›

Indian society was divided into five castes:
  • Brahmins: the priestly caste. After their religious role decreased they became the caste of officialdom.
  • Kshatriya: warrior caste. ...
  • Vaisya: the commoner caste. ...
  • Sudras: represented the great bulk of the Indian population. ...
  • Untouchables: descendants of slaves or prisoners.

Can you tell caste by last name? ›

A person's caste identity is inherent in their surnames (most times, but not always). The corollary of this is that a person's caste can be discerned by looking at their surnames. This is more true for Brahmins than others. By various estimates Brahmin population in India ranges between 3% and 5%.

How did the Spanish caste system impact natives? ›

Many castes in Mexican society became resentful of the racial, economic, and land inequality that was present due to colonial rule and the rigid caste system imposed by the Spanish. The Creoles resented the fact that they were considered inferior to the Peninsulares, just because they were born in the Americas.

Which is the lowest caste in India? ›

Dalit (from Sanskrit: दलित, romanized: dalita meaning "broken/scattered"), also previously known as untouchable, is a name for people belonging to the lowest stratum of the castes in India.

Who gave India its name? ›

India was the name given by Christopher Columbus.

Which caste is mostly in India? ›


Brahmans are at the top in Varna hierarchy. Main castes of this Varna are those of priests, teachers, custodians of social ritual practices and arbiter of correct social and moral behaviour. Geographically, they are the most ubiquitous because they officiate in a variety of rituals.

Which caste is majority in India? ›

Until the government machinery gets ready to conduct a full-blown caste-census, it could at least enumerate OBCs by including a caste column in Census 2021. Other Backward Class, or OBC, is approximated to be the largest social category in India.

What is the hierarchy of Indian society based on? ›

Hierarchy: The ranks were divided on the basis of superiority or inferiority. Brahmins were highest in hierarchy and untouchables were at the lowest.

Is the caste system the same as a hierarchy? ›

caste society is the hierarchy of the economically and politically powerful.

Is caste groups are hierarchical True or false? ›

Answer: the answers is true.

Who is the highest caste in the world? ›

Traditionally, the Brahmins are accorded the highest ritual status of the four social classes. Their livelihood is prescribed to be one of strict austerity and voluntary poverty ("A Brahmin should acquire what just suffices for the time, what he earns he should spend all that the same day").

Are Aryans Brahmins? ›

The Brahmins were Aryan invaders from the North and therefore brought their own language—Sanskrit—with them.

Who came 1st in India? ›

Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama becomes the first European to reach India via the Atlantic Ocean when he arrives at Calicut on the Malabar Coast. Da Gama sailed from Lisbon, Portugal, in July 1497, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and anchored at Malindi on the east coast of Africa.

What are the 8 pillars of caste? ›

There are eight foundational pillars of a caste system, and the first four are Divine Will and Laws of Nature, Heritability, Endogamy, and Purity vs Pollution. The last four pillars of the caste system deal with hierarchy, dehumanization, terror, and superiority.

What is the caste system order from highest to lowest? ›

Hindus did not question the varna system. It was simply considered a part of the way the universe works. Hindus rank the four varnas from highest to lowest. In descending order of importance and prestige, they are the BRAHMIN, the KSHATRIYA, the VAISYA, and the SHUDRA.

How many caste levels are there? ›

Hindu texts speak of four tiers, or varnas, making up a broader caste pyramid in society. On top are the Brahmins or priestly caste, the Kshatriyas or warrior class and the Vaisyas or merchant class. At the bottom come the Shudras or labouring castes. The rest do not even count: outcastes.

What are the 4 major castes? ›

The Hindu Caste system is based of lineage and occupation. It is divided into 4 distinct categories: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Sudras. There are also the Untouchables whom are considered the “caste-less”.

How do I know my caste? ›

Steps to Check Caste Certificate Details
  1. Step 1: Visit the Official Website. Visit the official website of the Department of Backward Classes Welfare for your state. ...
  2. Step 2: Provide the Details of Your Caste Certificate. ...
  3. Step 3: Verify Your Caste Certificate Status With Additional Details.

What is the most common Indian last name in the US? ›

Last Name/SurnameTotal1Rank4
74 more rows

What is the most Indian name? ›

Most Popular First Names In India
94 more rows

Which surname is richest in India? ›

Here is an overview of the total net worth of these families along with their background.
  1. Ambani Family. The net worth of Ambani family is INR 3,80,700 crores that puts it on top of the list among the richest Indian families. ...
  2. Godrej Family. ...
  3. Hinduja Family. ...
  4. Adani Family. ...
  5. Damini Family. ...
  6. Burman Family. ...
  7. Bajaj Family. ...
  8. Lohia Family.
11 Mar 2020

Why did the Spanish treat the natives poorly? ›

Natives were subjects of the Spanish crown, and to treat them as less than human violated the laws of God, nature, and Spain.

How did the Spanish impose racial hierarchies? ›

In which of the following ways did the Spanish impose racial hierarchies in the regions of the Americas that they controlled during the 1500s and 1600s? The Spanish created a caste system that incorporated people of European, Native American, and African descent.

How did the Spanish treat the Native Americans? ›

In America, events took their own course. The Spanish conquistadors, who went to Hispaniola and then to other Caribbean islands and finally to the mainland, were rough and violent. They took what they wanted, and when the Indians resisted--or even when they did not--the conquistadors attacked and slaughtered them.

Which caste is more poor? ›

The study also highlights how caste-based social stratification continues to undergird poverty levels in India. The study provides estimates of rural poverty on a caste basis: Muslim Dalits (52.5%), Hindu Dalits (51.9%), Muslim OBCs (38.2%), Hindu OBCs (38.0%), and Muslim General (31.3%).

Can a Dalit become a Brahmin? ›

Because a dalit Hindu can convert to Islam, Christianity or to Buddhism, but she can never turn into a Brahmin.

Can Hindu have two wives? ›

Legal developments

Thus polygamy became illegal in India in 1956, uniformly for all of its citizens except for Muslims, who are permitted to have four wives and for Hindus in Goa and along the western coast where bigamy is legal. A polygamous Hindu marriage is null and void.

Is India mentioned in Bible? ›

India is mentioned in Esther 1:1 and 8:9 as the eastern boundary of the Persian Empire under Ahasuerus (c. fifth century B.C.) and in 1 Maccabees 6:37 in a reference to the Indian mahouts of Antiochus's war elephants (second century B.C.). Otherwise there are no explicit references to India in the Old Testament.

What is the oldest name of India? ›

Jambudvipa (Sanskrit: जम्बुद्वीप, romanized: Jambu-dvīpa, lit. 'berry island') was used in ancient scriptures as a name of India before Bhārata became the official name. The derivative Jambu Dwipa was the historical term for India in many Southeast Asian countries before the introduction of the English word "India".

Did India exist before the British? ›

It was argued that India was previously not one country at all, but a thoroughly divided land mass. It was the British empire, so the claim goes, that welded India into a nation. Winston Churchill even remarked that before the British came, there was no Indian nation. “India is a geographical term.

Which is the lion caste in India? ›

Singh (IPA: /ˈsɪŋ/) is a title, middle name or surname that means "lion" in various South Asian and Southeast Asian communities. Traditionally used by the Hindu Kshatriya community, it eventually became a common surname adopted by different communities including Rajputs and Sikhs.

Are yadavs Rajputs? ›

Yaduvanshi is a term used for describing various Rajput clans. Prominent among them are Bhatis, Jadejas, Sammas and Chudasamas. Several inscriptions links the Chudasamas to Yadavas of the legendary Lunar dynasty.

Which caste is very rich? ›

50.3 percent of Brahmins are in the wealthy class, 13 percent are in the lower category, and the rest are in the middle class, as per the National Health survey. One significant observation about Brahmins is that the Brahmin community can practice any occupation or source of livehood.

Who created caste system in India? ›

The Origins of the Caste System

According to one long-held theory about the origins of South Asia's caste system, Aryans from central Asia invaded South Asia and introduced the caste system as a means of controlling the local populations. The Aryans defined key roles in society, then assigned groups of people to them.

What's the fastest growing religion in the world 2022? ›

Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world.

Who wrote the origin of caste system? ›

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
Cover image, based on a photo by Bruce Davidson at Magnum Photos
AuthorIsabel Wilkerson
Publication date4 August 2020
Media typePrint digital audiobook
11 more rows

Who introduced the concept of dominated caste? ›

M N Srinivas first defined the term 'dominant caste' to refer to the caste in the village which is numerically strong and also wields the greatest economic and political power (Srinivas 1987).

When did the caste system originated? ›

Origins of the Caste System:

The most ancient mention of the caste system is found in the Rig Veda, believed to be developed between 1500-800 BC, where it was called the Varna system.

Where was the caste system created? ›

The social historical theory explains the creation of the Varnas, Jats and of the untouchables. According to this theory, the caste system began with the arrival of the Aryans in India. The Aryans arrived in India around 1500 BC.

How old is caste system in India? ›

The origins of the caste system in India and Nepal are not fully known, but castes seem to have originated more than 2,000 years ago. Under this system, which is associated with Hinduism, people were categorized by their occupations. Although originally caste depended upon a person's work, it soon became hereditary.

What is the main base of caste? ›

The caste system in India is based on the concept of graded inequality. It ascertains that some castes as upper castes and some other castes as lower castes.

Who is famous for his concept of dominant caste? ›

Mysore Narasimhachar Srinivas (1916–1999) was an Indian sociologist and social anthropologist. He is mostly known for his work on caste and caste systems, social stratification, Sanskritisation and Westernisation in southern India and the concept of 'dominant caste'.

Who are dominant caste give two examples? ›

Normally, the caste which is traditionally higher in the caste hierarchy enjoys the status of dominance. The Brahmins and the Rajputs have traditionally been dominant in the villages. The Brahmins have at the top of the caste hierarchy and they officiate at the religious festivals and rituals of the village.

Is India the only country with a caste system? ›

While the caste system originated in Hindu scriptures, it crystallized during British colonial rule and has stratified society in every South Asian religious community. In addition to India, it is present in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bhutan.

What is caste system in ancient India? ›

This is when the Aryans began to impose a rigid social structure in Ancient India. This system is called the caste system. Caste members lived, ate, married, and worked with their own group. A person born into one caste rarely changed castes or mixed with members from other castes.

How can you tell the caste of a person? ›

Caste is determined by birth- a child is "born into" the caste of his parents. Caste is never a matter of choice. One can never change one's caste, leave it, or choose not to join it, although there are instances where a paerson maybe expelled from their caste.

Can caste be changed? ›

Cast cannot be changed once applied. There is no provision for changing the Caste. The only way that people adopt is to change the religion from HINDU and after some time return to the HINDUism again and accept a caste of your choice at that time...


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