- The cancellation of a talk at Google News by Equality Labs executive director Thenmozhi Soundararajan prompted the departure of Tanuja Gupta who faced retaliation for championing caste equity.
In April, Dalit American activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Equality Labs, was invited to Google to talk about caste to mark Dalit History Month. The Google News diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) talk was eventually canceled because of “disinformation” about Soundararajan and the organization she leads. It led to the resignation of Tanuja Gupta, a project manager at Google News, who had invited Soundararajan to speak.
The California-based civil rights organization dedicated to caste equity has condemned Google’s “casteist and hostile workplace practices,” and urges it to add caste as a protected category “immediately.” It also demands that Google News be held accountable to protect all its employees.
In a press release issued on June 2, it noted how the incident has brought to light the management’s lack of “caste competence,” endangering its employees “as they allowed caste bigotry and harassment to run rampant in the company.”
The developments were reported by The Washington Post, the press release said, adding that Soundararajan faced “discriminatory claims within Google,” leading to derailing the civil rights event until its ultimate cancellation. Soundararajan told The Post that once the news of her talk was out, “Google employees began spreading disinformation, calling her “Hindu-phobic” and “anti-Hindu.”
The Post confirmed these claims after reviewing “emails [sent] to the company’s leaders, documents posted on Google’s intranet and mailing lists with thousands of employees,” as well as speaking with current Google employees who didn’t want to be identified.
Meanwhile, Gupta told The Post that two days before Soundararajan’s presentation, “seven Google employees sent emails to company leaders and Gupta with inflammatory language about how they felt harmed and how they felt their lives were at risk by the discussion of caste equity.”
“The movement towards caste equity is one rooted in love, empathy and justice,” the Equality Labs press release quoted Soundararajan as saying. “I cannot find the words to express just how traumatic and discriminatory Google’s actions were towards its employees and myself, as the company unlawfully canceled a talk about caste equity. Google must address the casteism within its workforce that allows for these attacks to occur and continue.”
Soundararajan also sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, “to allow her presentation to go forward,” The Post said. “Whether it is the Cisco case in California or the BAPS temple case in New Jersey, caste equity is urgent and relevant now more than ever,” she wrote. “The movement for caste equity helps ensure safer workplaces and the civil rights of a historically marginalized community, and is in alignment with Google’s diversity goals in the wake of Mr. George Floyd’s murder.”
Noting that she was “troubled by Google’s postponement of the timely presentation about caste equity and newsrooms,” she told Pichai in the letter that “this engagement will not only support your staff and many global reporters in better understanding and covering this structural South Asian issue, but also allow Google to better support caste-oppressed journalists in a meaningful way, especially at a time when they face so much violence for covering this issue.” She said her talk would follow up on her previous two talks delivered at Google events.
In “a goodbye email” Gupta sent on June 1, she details the happenings since she fixed the talk and the retaliation she received. “Having been at the company for 11 years, I had many reasons for leaving, but this was the only one I needed,” she wrote. “In the process of doing my job and promoting caste equity at the company, I saw four women of color harassed and silenced. The reality is that these are not isolated events, this is a pattern.”
She wrote how her team members were “doxxed” as a result of the planned talk, and their safety was jeopardized. Google management retaliated against Gupta with an HR investigation and punitive corrective action that forced her resignation, as she no longer felt safe at the company.
Born and raised in Texas after her parents immigrated to the United States in the 1980s from India, Gupta is half Hindu, half Jain by birth, though she most closely identifies as a Jain, she wrote in the email.
Founder of Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration, Gupta is an original organizer of the Google Walkout, which “championed more than 400 of Google’s workers to stand up to caste discrimination from employees who oppose caste equity,” The Post reported. She also organized a similar walkout in 2018, “in which 20,000 Google employees around the world briefly walked out of their offices to protest the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment.”
According to The Post, “Google had previously vetted Soundararajan to give a similar talk, but executives postponed her presentation to the Google News team.”
However, Google spokesperson Shannon Newberry told The Post that “caste discrimination has no place in our workplace.” and that the company has “a very clear, publicly shared policy against retaliation and discrimination in our workplace.” She said they made the decision “to not move forward with the proposed talk which — rather than bringing our community together and raising awareness — was creating division and rancor.”