FPJ Exclusive: Caste discrimination has no place in our workplace, says Google after Dalit rights activist's talk cancelled

Google spokesperson said they decided to cancel Soundararajan's talk as it "was creating division and rancor" rather than "bringing our community together and raising awareness"

Gaurav KadamUpdated: Thursday, June 02, 2022, 08:53 PM IST
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Google CEO Sundar Pichai | File Photo

"Caste discrimination has no place in our workplace. We also have a very clear, publicly shared policy against retaliation and discrimination in our workplace," a Google spokesperson told The Free Press Journal on Thursday. This came after FPJ quizzed the spokesperson regarding a report in The Washington Post that said a talk on caste bias by a Dalit rights activist to Google News employees was cancelled by the tech giant.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a Dalit rights activist based in the United States of America (USA) and the founder and executive director of Equality Labs, a nonprofit that advocates for Dalits, was scheduled to give a talk to Google News employees on the occasion of the Dalit History Month (April). However, the talk was cancelled after some employees revolted, the report said.

According to the report, some employees began spreading disinformation against the activist, calling her “Hindu-phobic” and “anti-Hindu” in emails to the company’s leaders.

Soundararajan then appealed directly to Google CEO Sundar Pichai to allow her talk to go forward, but it fell on deaf ears. This led some employees to conclude that Google was willfully ignoring caste bias, the report added.

As a result of the cancelled talk, Tanuja Gupta, a senior manager at Google News who had invited the activist to speak, submitted her resignation. In her goodbye email, Gupta questioned whether Google wanted its diversity efforts to succeed. “Retaliation is a normalized Google practice to handle internal criticism, and women take the hit,” she wrote.

According to Gupta’s letter and Soundararajan, the decision to cancel the talk on caste bias came from the former’s boss, Cathy Edwards, a vice president of engineering. Reportedly, she had no experience or expertise in matters of caste, the report further said.

Slamming Pichai, the Dalit rights activist said the Google CEO must make a comment regarding this controversy. “(He) is Indian and he is Brahmin and he grew up in Tamil Nadu. There is no way you grow up in Tamil Nadu and not know about caste because of how caste politics shaped the conversation,” Soundararajan told The Washington Post.

“If he can make passionate statements about Google’s (diversity equity and inclusion) commitments in the wake of George Floyd, he absolutely should be making those same commitments to the context he comes from where he is someone of privilege," she added.

Meanwhile, speaking exclusively to FPJ, the company's spokesperson said they decided to cancel Soundararajan's talk as it "was creating division and rancor" rather than "bringing our community together and raising awareness".

The spokesperson said, "We can confirm that following a full review of this conduct and how it impacted other employees, we issued a warning to an employee under our standards of conduct. We also made the decision to not move forward with the proposed talk."

The talk is currently available on YouTube.

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