Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dalits in private sector and MNC companies

Dear All

Many MNC subsidiaries and outsourcing partners based in India will
shortly face pressure to incorporate measures to address the absence of
dalits among their employees. The process has started. Newer norms (and
sometimes mandatory regulations) like the Ambedkar principles of the
IDSN (see for a flavor) are being raised in board meetings
of MNCs by their own institutional investors and by activist individual
investors. The situation right now is that their awareness of the
situation and the need to act is growing. Expect action in the not so
distant future. Governments around the world too are supporting the
need for corporates to comply with global norms (UN compact for
example) that many of them have signed up for. Lenders/Donors are
beginning to be aware of the diversion happening in money sent to India
and the injustice being perpetuated in the distribution of the positive
effects of the money.

Corporate India (including Nasscomm) does not want to discover and talk
about dalits like the senior level dalits in Indian private and MNC
companies...and have a section like "women in IT" to celebrate the
potential of dalits and document the successes of Indias
reservation/affirmative-action policy. The hidden apartheid against
dalits openly being themselves in the Indian corporates is high. Dalits
are expected to be extremely docile and lie in a corner, take what is
thrown at them and not seek a share of corporate power.

The conspiracy of ignoring dalit achievement in Indian private sector
aims to perpetuate the myth that dalits are incapable.

The achievements of dalits like me are proof enough of the benefits of
investing in dalits by facilitating their education, employment and
enteprise. Today there are multiple companies which have benefitted
from the value I created as their employee. Of course, the fact that I
was paid proportionately low to my contribution in the final analysis
is a failing of Indian corporate culture, but atleast I had the
opportunity to experiment with what I could achieve at the risk of
someone else. That opportunity itself is denied to those who lack the
social networks to find the right jobs/financing, get the right advice
suitable to their individual talents/weakness. So the confidence
required to launch enterprises is scarce. And yet the expectation is
that dalits should pick themselves up and start running.

Without helping dalits to stand up and start walking, the expectation
of many non-dalits is that the dalit community should immediately start
running at globally competitive levels. And when they say this, they
conveniently forget the justification for why Rahul Bajaj needs a
"level playing field".

There is unjust pressure to "be part of the team", where in the "coffee
table discussions", the dominant castes summarily dismiss dalit
viewpoints and where the level of hatred easily subjugates any desire
to actively argue the case of the dalits. And if some dalit does argue
the case actively, he is quickly "handled" and branded as "not being a
team player". This brand of subjugation is a tactic to keep dalits
silent and prevent them from raising their voices against the dominant
viewpoints and exploitative structures preventing dalits from growing
out of their miseries. Discussions about dalits are conducted in pomp
by non-dalits and they gloat about the glories of how they are the
saviors of dalits. And if dalits are chosen, then either subservient
dalits or ignorant dalits are chosen as representatives of dalits,
thereby denying representation in fact. The pune pact is the most
insidious way of denying representation to 20% of the population.

Indian private sector has a long distance to travel. Its views of
itself are far from reality. Its public utterances of fairness are
false. Its hypocrisy and claims moral uprightness is a blot on the
public face of India given the reality which is getting exposed through
the global media.

Infosys is a good thing to happen in India. I am one of those, who
spurred on by Infosys, was part of launch and sale of a company. I do agree that
Narayanamurty did some good. But did he really do anything about being
inclusive. His gandhian attitude of seeking Americans to open their
markets, while closing the doors on dalits in implicit manners is a
pain. The PR machinery of Infosys has'nt been able to showcase "dalits
in Infosys" yet. There are dalits in Infosys. But Infosys has a brahmin
dominated culture. Personally I have actively
avoided it for years. I made my career by sticking with smaller
companies, where work would matter more than my caste, where any
discrimination would be immediately visible. While larger companies
like TCS have hired and promoted dalits to senior levels, their
insistence on staying totally mum about the number of dalit employees
is retrograde.

Many Indians believe that once dalits have been accomodated into the
corporate hierarchy, then they should get co-opted into the thinking of
non-dalits. The truth is that retaining ones identity is important in
the case of dalits for multiple reasons.
1. To provide visible role models
2. To measure progress of dalits objectively and not subjectively based

on hand waving hypothesis.
3. To provide representation to views of other dalits (dalit investors,

dalit potential employees, dalit customers, etc)

The Gandhian insistence of losing ones identity and mixing up is a
tactic to divest the dalits of their transformative potential. If they
do not leave their identities, they raise questions inside and outside
the company, whether they want to raise them or not. That is the reason

why companies want dalits to remain invisible. That is the reason, why
despite so many years of reservations, there are too few dalits visible
at senior levels. There are some who have been co-opted into silence
and live their lives hidden and subservient to the interests of those
in power.

If Infosys thinks it is gods gift to mankind, then let it showcase
senior level dalits. How come, despite so many years of reservations at
IIT and IIM, they still have'nt managed to attract one senior employee,
who happens to be dalit? Their claimed moral uprightness about dalit
employees having "equal opportunity" inside Infosys is hog-wash to me.
The proof will be show-casing "dalits at Infosys" like the Nass-com
website which showcases "women in IT".


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