Making Hidden Inequality Visible: Caste Discrimination in Tech
Written by Manda Frederick September 14, 2023
On Tuesday, September 5, 2023, California became the first U.S. state to pass a bill banning discrimination based on caste. Bill SB 403 effectively protects caste as a form of ancestry under state civil rights law, extending the protections to education and housing codes.
“Caste” systems are a social and economic organization in which people inherit a social group (caste) at birth; this practice is widely seen across South Asia. The foundation of caste-organized societies is rigid inequality, where those in “upper” castes have ample rights and fewer duties, and those in “lower” castes have fewer rights and ample duties.
Members of lower castes face life-long discrimination and exclusion, including employment discrimination, access to education and social services, social segregation, exploitation like debt bondage or sex trafficking, lack of political representation, stigmatization, and violence.
The passing of SB 403 is just one recent measure to address caste discrimination in the U.S.; just in February of this year, Seattle became the first U.S. city to ban caste discrimination, three years after numerous employees, including Dalit female technologists from major tech giants such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Cisco, came forward with distressing accounts of workplace injustices. These accounts included unequal pay, withheld promotions, and instances of ridicule based on their caste heritage.
The issue has been explicitly elevated in states on the West Coast of the U.S. because of an important common element: Tech bubbles.
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