On this Gandhi Jayanti, reflecting on the ways in which Gandhi’s experiments with truth resist and challenge the communicative infrastructure of deception that forms the discursive basis of the fascist politics of Hindutva.
“As a fascist ideology, Hindutva thrives on the production and circulation of lies, continually at work to vilify India’s Muslim minorities.
This deception, communicating contradictory and conflicting messages internally and externally, actively producing misinformation, and mobilizing violence on the basis of the misinformation, lies at the crux of the organizing of hate as a technique for rule.
Deception forms the everyday habits of Hindutva, drawing from the Brahminical hierarchy that gives it its conceptual formation. Brahminism as the underlying feature of Hindutva mobilizes the practices of deception.
From the active production of disinformation in the form of conspiracy theories to practices based on lies in everyday life, the communicative infrastructure of Hindutva thrives on deception.”
This opinion piece is the fourth of a five-part series on the intertwined webs of the far-right mobilised to attack communication and media studies pedagogy. This piece is written in solidarity with other communication and media studies academics, researchers, and practitioners who have been targeted by the far-right.
The far-right’s reactionary culture war, cooked up by the Trump-Bannon-Infowars-Fox infrastructure, materialised by extremist groups such as Proud Boys, and legitimised by the right-wing political machinery, has been and will continue to be vigorously resisted by academia.
In three earlier essays crafted for this series, I have discussed exactly how the United States-far-right’s culture war is mimicked here in Aotearoa by the right-wing ecosystem working incessantly to pump out fear as an organising tool, as a photocopy of Bannon’s political strategy of deploying hate as a marketing tool. The manufacturing of a culture war as a strategic issue generates leverage, and more specifically votes, for right-wing political parties while simultaneously working to disenfranchise communities at the margins.
I have also outlined how these attacks are directed at silencing academic voices, particularly those working on issues of social justice, disinformation, and hate. Although academics are often the direct targets, the ultimate goal of the far-right is to silence the voices of the marginalised communities we partner with. The force of the attacks is particularly violent when directed at those of us in academia who engage in public scholarship.
In this piece, I will turn to strategies for countering the far-right and outline some of the powerful ways in which academics are resisting these targeted hate campaigns across the globe. Because the far-right’s cancel culture originates from the hate ecosystem linked with Donald Trump in the US, I will also draw upon US-based examples of academic resistance as instructive lessons.
The various pressures from these outside forces, mediated through the interference from the Regents, tampered with the university’s hiring process, resulting in Professor McElroy’s offer being altered, with multiple iterations walking back the tenured position initially offered.
The attacks were organised amidst the Republican Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, signing a bill attacking DEI offices at public colleges, one among similar such concerted policies introduced by Republican lawmakers across the US. Note here that these fringe policies are built around the “Woke culture” and “Critical Race Theory (CRT)” frenzy that has been concocted by the far-right as political fodder, as a direct offshoot of Bannon’s political strategy of mobilising culture war as a campaign tool. As I have noted earlier, this hysteria around CRT is networked, traveling from the Trumpian ecosystem to the far-right ecosystem in Europe to Australia to Aotearoa.
The targeted campaign, materialised through the interference by the Regents and a timid administration lacking leadership, led to several institutional processes being violated.
A story published in the Texas Tribune first revealed these process violations and the change in the job offer to Professor McElroy. The story was picked up nationally, covered by major news media.
“How this University treated this respected, honored, qualified, experienced, successful, and tenured fellow Aggie is unacceptable and would have been unthinkable yet for her race and gender… The fact that this University outwardly promotes very laudable principles in the Aggie Core Values, yet you don’t have the character nor the courage to follow these Core Values as the leader of this University reveals the deep chasm between your words and your actions.”
The fiasco led to the president’s resignation. The university separately settled with Professor McElroy for US$1 million and she stayed in her position at the University of Texas, Austin. The Texas A&M leadership released a statement, apologising “for the way her employment application was handled.”
In the backdrop of the organised campaigns of the far-right, coupled with the large-scale neoliberal transformations of universities that have foisted an overarching professional-managerial-consultant ideology, it is vital that academics across institutions globally work to strengthen faculty governance and oversight over decision-making processes, attending closely to the threats to academic freedom externally and internally, anticipating them, and responding to them pro-actively. In the US, elected bodies such as faculty senates carry out this powerful role of holding university managers accountable.
It is also critical that academics work alongside university leadership in developing institutional pedagogies around the threats posed by the far-right, mapping the pathways and sites of attacks, and developing and institutionalising strategies for responding.
For instance, one of the core strategies of the far-right is to pose as aggrieved students and concerned community members to carry out attacks targeting academics, often operating through fake social media accounts, anonymous email addresses, fake websites, sock puppet accounts, automated bots, troll farms, and instant messaging apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp. Email campaigns and university complaint portals are co-opted as tools for carrying out such swarm attacks, with influencers manufacturing grievance to mobilise such campaigns and directing followers to lodge complaints, working alongside automated bots and troll farms.
Educating staff in front-facing roles in sifting through and identifying spurious complaints, in detecting far-right disinformation-based narratives in the complaints, in raising the appropriate security alarms, and adequately responding to these narratives, is critical. Similarly, given the deployment of Official Information Act (OIA) requests to feed far-right propaganda, responding proactively to the propaganda and debunking it is critical. Also crucial is building the capacity of university managers in detecting potential instances of foreign interference and raising these through appropriate channels within the university. Such pedagogy needs to be built preventively across institutions, given the message swarms that far-right campaigns build, often funded by powerful political and economic interests, including right-wing think tanks, lobbies, astroturfs, and foundations.
Moreover, relevant state structures and institutional processes ought to be able to support universities with addressing the concerns raised, given the threats to institutional processes and democracy, and critically in the context of foreign interference into academic freedom through organised campaigns.
Building legal infrastructures
In the case presented above, Texas A&M reached a $1 million settlement with Professor Kathleen McElroy. The report released by the University General Counsel demonstrated egregious process violations. During the hiring process, university officials initially pushed for a delay until after the state legislative session adjourned, anticipating potential backlash from conservative lawmakers. Following complaints about her hiring raised by university regents, officials changed the terms of her contract.
As the process unfolded, with the terms of her contract changing significantly, Professor McElroy responded to the university, asking it to communicate through her lawyers.
“Journalism schools reflect the same reality we see in the rest of the country…Why it’s especially troubling in journalism is that journalism is the firewall of our democracy. Journalism is what’s supposed to be exposing the way power is wielded. If that story is being filtered through an almost exclusively White lens, it’s not accurate. It’s not capable of helping us… understand the country we live in.”
The Hannah-Jones settlement is instructive because it includes several structural changes, proving the “correctness of critical race theory.” It outlines an inclusive search process for new employees in conjunction with the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; mental health counselling placed within the Multicultural Health Programme, complemented by the hiring of an additional trauma-informed therapist; and a $5,000 annual funding to the Provost’s Office to coordinate meetings and events sponsored by the Carolina Black Caucus working alongside UNC-Chapel Hill Vice Provost.
The far-right often directs its attacks on academics identifying with diverse marginalised positions. For instance, as with the examples of the organised campaigns targeting Professor McElroy and Hannah-Jones, the far-right interferences into university processes are racist, violating the fundamental human rights of academics having a protected characteristic. Building legal infrastructures such as the NAACP is critical to resisting the interference of the far-right into university processes.
Seeing and materialising connections
The organising structure of far-right hate produces its effect through the creation and amplification of fear. The mobilisation of fear results in swarms that target and attack academics and universities. These swarm-based campaigns have chilling effects, threatening the livelihoods and lives of academics.
The effects of these campaigns are amplified by the individualising processes that often place the onus of securing safety on individual actions to be taken by those being targeted. Consider the targeting of the University of Auckland academics, Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles and Professor Shaun Hendy. The pair became the targets of attacks directed at their work explaining the science behind COVID-19. In a complaint to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), they noted the university had failed its duty of care to them.
Attacks such as these call for the allocation of institutional resources to support academic freedom for public scholarship.
However, amidst the ongoing cuts to university funding globally including here in Aotearoa, finding the resources and allocating them to security (including digital security), legal support, mental health support, and media support is a challenge for leaders. Making provisions for security on funding applications and allocating funding resources for security to universities are two policy responses that can offer meaningful safeguards. The inclusion of community and social impact in the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) ought to be combined with funding allocated to building safeguards around public-facing impactful scholarship. To advocate for such policy-based support, it is important that academics, unions, students, university leaders and policymakers work together.
Academic solidarities globally have been crucial to challenging the attacks by far-right campaigns. Letter writing campaigns and petitions have been vital in both responding to and developing preventive infrastructures for addressing the threats posed by far-right campaigns targeting individual academics, programmes of research, and academic departments.
Academic organising across institutions is a critical resource in mapping and responding to the interplays between institutional racism and far-right attacks. Disciplinary associations here can play central roles in responding to the organised attacks, developing both preventive measures as well as effective responses. Responding to the far-right attacks on communication education and scholarship, my disciplinary association, the National Communication Association (NCA), issued the following statement:
“As the preeminent scholarly society devoted to the study and teaching of Communication, NCA recognizes that professional educators, including Communication scholars and teachers, are best equipped to determine what is appropriate for their classrooms and curricula. Among other theories that plainly acknowledge the histories and impacts of race, Critical race theory (CRT) is foundational to effective communication teaching, learning, and practice. Simply stated: Educators cannot effectively teach communication without teaching about systemic racism and its impact on our institutions and policies, including teaching about CRT and its principles. Students cannot adequately learn about effective communication without exploring systemic racism in the history of the United States. To restrict freedoms to engage in the teaching of, and communication about, CRT and other theories which examine the historical and current impact of their principles is inconsistent with the principles of democracy. NCA opposes legislation that would censor content within the curriculum or classroom based on political disagreement or contrived controversy, particularly when such legislation curtails or prohibits teaching about the role of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the United States historically and today.”
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is an example of an organisational structure that is critical to safeguarding academic freedom in the US. Tracking the far-right campaign attacking Critical Race Theory in the form of bills passed across various states to Trump and the Make America Great Again (MAGA) campaign, noted the AAUP in its report:
“Language in these bills draws from Trump’s 2020 executive order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotypes and can be found in model legislation being pushed by MAGA lobbying arm Citizens for Renewing America. Both the executive order and model legislation are influenced by Russ Vought, Trump’s former budget director, who founded CRA. CRA is funded by the Conservative Partnership Institute, which is an effort by Trump allies to formalize extremist, far-right politics in the think tank sphere. Other organizations included under the CPI umbrella are the American Accountability Foundation, which attacks President Joe Biden’s Cabinet and judicial appointees, and America First Legal, which is run by former Trump speechwriter Stephen Miller and focuses on litigation that “oppose[s] the radical left’s anti-jobs, anti-freedom, anti-faith, anti-borders, anti-police, and anti-American crusade.” According to 2021 tax filings, CPI had an annual budget of $17.1 million, and revenues of $45.7 million.”
“In the case of retention of faculty members and administrative officers of color, while the individual motivations for their departures may be unclear, what is clear is that in one way or another a culture of exclusion, a lack of transparency and inclusion in decision-making, the chilling of academic freedom, discounting certain kinds of scholarship and teaching, and the constant threat of political interference have combined to fuel what some have called an “exodus” from the UNC system.”
Across global registers, it is critical to consider the possibilities for building academic associations committed to safeguarding scholarship. In Aotearoa for instance, such an organisation would among addressing other elements critical to academic freedom, track the funding flows of far-right hate and map potential foreign interference both discursively and materially, assess the risks to academia posed by disinformation campaigns, and respond robustly. Building partnerships with university leadership and relevant ministries are equally important in delineating the foreign interference at work (such as in the example of the “culture war” hysteria) and in developing preventive strategies to respond to it. Mobilising unions to address the threats to academic freedom is another potential avenue.
In addition, building solidarities with communities, civil society, and social movements is vital to resisting the forces of the far-right. The recognition that the attacks on universities are part of a broader pattern of attacks mobilised by the far-right ought to serve as the basis for crafting solidarities that witness and challenge the pernicious narratives and hate campaigns at societal levels. Connecting with activists and lending solidarity to those who are targeted by the far-right are critical to creating the broader infrastructure for resistance.
In the attacks I have experienced recently mobilised by the racist disinformation campaign launched by far-right networks here in Aotearoa, I have been humbled to be supported by collectives of activists, anchored in Māori leadership. When I discussed these targeted attacks with activists Tina Ngata and Sina Brown-Davis, they wrapped me up in a collective network of care. Within a few hours of our conversation, I had an email from The Manaaki Collective, offering a blanket of support, from security to legal assistance.
Te Tiriti and global leadership
The principles of Te Tiriti, foregrounding the values of participation, protection, and partnership offer powerful registers for resistance to white supremacy.
In Aotearoa, Māori have historically challenged racism and white supremacy in transformative ways, dismantling the hate politics of settler colonialism with the values of manaakitanga (caring about each other’s wellbeing, nurturing relationships, and engaging with one another) and whanaungatanga (forming, maintaining, and nurturing relationships and strengthening ties between kin and communities). Māori struggles for Te Tiriti justice have historically offered inspiration and hope to diverse struggles for social justice in Aotearoa and globally.
The sustained resistance to white supremacy offered by Māori activists and communities position Aotearoa as a leader for global progressive struggles against white supremacy, and for interconnected struggles for climate justice, racial justice, Indigenous rights and migrant rights. Amidst the disenfranchising effects of white supremacy that seek to silence activist and academic voices, the inspiring work of The Manaaki Collective offers a global model for Indigenous leadership in securing safe spaces for organising “for racial, social, environmental, and Te Tiriti justice.”
I wrap up this opinion piece by directly addressing the propaganda infrastructures of the far-right. Our message to the far-right reactionaries, in politics, in the media, on digital platforms, and in various hate formations, is loud and clear.
Backed by powerful economic forces, often hiding behind astroturfs, sock puppets, instant messaging apps, automated bots and fake websites, the far-right have launched propaganda campaigns that deliberately distort scholarship to suit the white supremacist agenda, confident that the targeted attacks can ban the teaching of critical concepts of social justice, and thus erase the powerful waves of voices emergent from the margins mobilising for transformational change.
And in spite of the economic power and political influence, replete with a digital infrastructure fuelling the dissemination of disinformation and hate, exponentially magnified by the globally linked hate networks, the far-right will continue to fail in securing hegemony.
The hate and divisive narratives that seed and propagate fear will fail because, as articulated forcefully by Martin Luther King, Jr, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The far-right threats to stalk us, get us fired, get us and our families deported, incarcerate us, rape us, dox our families on social hate platforms, and kill us will not silence the conviction of our scholarship, and the public impact this scholarship creates. We will continue to, along with the communities we partner with, carry out our research, generate empirical evidence that empowers communities in their struggles for justice, and transform the status quo.
Our public scholarship will continue to build registers for hope. Communities at the margins will continue to rise up, raise their voices and challenge the marginalising processes that seek to silence them.
In not cowering to the fear-based campaigns of the far-right, we will continue to be inspired by the words of Indigenous activists. In the words of activist Sina Brown-Davis, “Be unafraid, be powerful, we have everything to fight for and nothing to lose.”
Professor Mohan Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right. He is a member of the board of the International Communication Association.
CARE VISITING LECTURE SERIES: Traditional Children’s Games in India: Reviving and Renewing Precolonial Inclusive Practices with Prof. Tanmoy Bhattacharya, University of Delhi
Traditional Children’s Games in India: Reviving and Renewing Precolonial Inclusive Practices
In this talk I question the western disability studies theories of inclusion and show they can be unpacked and informed through simple notions of innovations through informality. Various traditional Indian children’s games are analysed to show how they teach us ways of including the disabled child in innovative ways. The talk addresses both the theory and politics of the condition of postcoloniality through an “attribute of subordination” reflected in the changing character of traditional children’s games in India.
DATE: 20th JUNE 2023 | TIME: 12:00 PM NZST
Venue: Second Floor, Palmerston North City Library-Central Library
The figure of the “Miya” forms the infrastructure of the anti-Muslim hate in Assam, the Northeast frontier of India.
In this essay, I will argue that the genocidal hate reflected in anti-Muslim violence and anti-Muslim public policies in Assam is mirrored in the ongoing production of the “Muslim other” in the infrastructure of the fascist National Register for Citizens (NRC) carried out by the Hindutva regime.
The rhetorical trope of the “Miya” depicts the power of cultural discourse in organizing violence through the turn to a monolithic cultural essence based on exclusion.
The construction of the “Miya” as the Muslim other lies at the core of the cultural chauvinism that has historically mobilized the middle-class, upper-caste cultural nationalist movement in Assam. Elsewhere, I have described the communicative tools that actively produce “the other” to organize cultural nationalism, constructing the nation on the basis of a monolithic cultural essence.
The term “Miya” is rife with the racist fear of the Muslim illegal immigrant taking over Assamese land and culture, mobilized to build a movement of cultural nationalism. It is often used to describe Muslim migrants from the Myemensingh region of neighboring Bangladesh (which was part of undivided Bengal) who migrated in the early twentieth century, encouraged and in many instances forcibly moved by the British imperialists, settling in the riverine islands of the Brahmaputra river.
The activist-scholar Sooraj Gogoi powerfully describes the ways in which the cultural revivalism that shaped the Assamese nationalism underlying the Assam movement in the 1980s created the discursive climate of fear and hate around the illegal Muslim immigrant, classified as the foreigner. He further describes the role of middle-class caste Assamese cultural workers, intellectuals including academics, poets, lyricists, performers etc. in constructing the discursive ecosystem of cultural nationalism.
The basis of the cultural turn underlying the Assam movement draws on an Assamese essence depicted in linguistic and cultural artifacts. Simultaneously, this cultural turn as cultural nationalism is deployed toward the production of hate through the circulation of the image of the foreigner. Through songs, poems, and graffiti, the foreigner is crafted as a perpetual threat to the cultural essence, as a danger to a monolithic Assamese cultural identity.
This discursive climate of hate is financialized by the political class, turning hate into the basis for mobilizing the movement and political participation. It is this ecosystem of hate seeded by caste Assamese political-cultural society that mobilized largely tribal and oppressed caste communities in participating in the violence at Nellie that resulted in the death of 3,300 Muslims. The Nellie massacre remains one of the most violent pogroms since World War 2.
The xenophobic anti-Muslim violence scripted into mainstream caste Assamese society as cultural nationalism flows seamlessly into the Islamophobic fascist laboratory of Hindutva.
The chauvinism of Assamese cultural nationalism feeds directly into the cultural nationalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The threat of the illegal foreigner in Assam is mobilized into the concept of the registry, crystallized in the National Register for Citizens (NRC), sending Muslims into detention centers, stripped of the “right to have rights.” The violence of the NRC process, marked by the haphazard implementation of documentation, the arbitrariness of the Assam foreigners tribunal, the disenfranchisement of Muslims who have lived in India across generations through incarceration in detention centers (locally referred to as concentration camps), and the absence of access to juridical processes, have resulted in plethora of health challenges, including challenges to mental health and suicides. In a period of five years between 2015 and 2020, between 38 and 42 individuals committed suicide in Assam in the context of the revocation of their own or a relative’s citizenship status.
The discursive construction of Muslims as foreign nationals is built on the ideology of border-making that catalyzes the material construction of the border as the basis for othering. This process of othering Muslims as the basis of cultural nationalism in Assam reflects the organizing role of cultural essence as the organizing ideology that drives hate, violence, and fascist politics.
The Tertiary Education Action Group Aotearoa @TEAGAUnion will be presenting some of the data from the Precarious Academic Work Report (PAWS) report and then hosting a short panel discussion. Precarious working arrangements are a complex, often hidden feature of academia in Aotearoa New Zealand. The report highlights that in Aotearoa we have a highly trained academic workforce who are engaged in long-term cycles of precarity, with resultant impacts on financial security, health and wellbeing. The report also adds further evidence of inequities present in the academic pipeline, with the system discouraging Māori and Pasifika academic careers, while relying on the exploitation of international student labour.
Presenting the findings of the report are:
Luke D. Oldfield
Aimee B. Simpson
Apriel D. Jolliffe Simpson,
& Leon Salter
About our panelists:
Green Party MP for Auckland Central. Chlöe works tirelessly for bold, transformational action on the issues for which she is the Green Party spokesperson, including young people, mental health and tertiary education.
Dr. Sereana Naepi
Lecturer in Social Sciences at the University of Auckland. A Pasifika woman of Fijian and Pakeha descent, Sereana works to help other Pasifika people not only succeed but also lead purposeful, meaningful and significant lives.
Prof. Mohan Dutta
Mohan J Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), Massey University developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right.
A Washington Post story published on June 2, titled “Google’s plan to talk about caste bias led to ‘division and rancor’,” documents the resistance put up by employees at Google identifying themselves as Hindu protesting the platforming of a pedagogy-based lecture by the dalit rights activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the founder and executive director of Equality Labs. Equality Labs is a nonprofit that advocates for Dalits.
What is powerful about the story is the complicity of the infrastructure of Google in de-platforming the event and in targeting the organizer of the event at Google, Tanuja Gupta, who worked as a senior manager at Google News.
The disinformation campaign organized by Hindu employees targeting Soundararajan called her “Hindu-phobic” and “anti-Hindu” in emails to the company’s leaders.
I am very familiar with these tropes, rooted in disinformation, that are increasingly being deployed by Hindutva adherents to target critics of Hindutva, particularly academics, journalists, and activists.
Over the course of the past year, in response to my scholarship on Hindutva and the support of CARE, the center I direct, for a conference titled “Dismantling Global Hindutva,” I have experienced relentless attacks fuelled by a disinformation campaign labelling me Hinduphobic and accusing me of spreading “Hindumisia” (both Hinduphobia and Hindumisia are terms concocted by Hindutva to silence critics of the hateful ideology). These attacks have taken the forms of letter-writing campaigns directed at my employer, threats on Twitter, sexually violent emails threatening rape, and death threats on digital platforms.
What is critical to this global disinformation campaign is the role of formally recognized organizations such as Hindu Council and Hindu Youth here in Aotearoa, Hindu American Foundation in the US, as well as professionals and business owners in disseminating the disinformation.
In the context of Google, the disinformation is seeded and disseminated by employees.
In doing so, Hindutva adherents draw on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies, making the claim that the criticism of caste or Islamophobia in Hindutva violates the principles of DEI.
The Indian Institutes of Technologies that both the Google CEO Sundar Pichai (a Tamil Brahmin) and I attended (Pichai graduated two years ahead of me from IIT Kharagpur), and that boast of having trained the leaders of the global tech sector (IIT Bombay alumnus Parag Agarwal is the Twitter CEO, the chairman and CEO of IBM is the IIT Kanpur B.Tech Arvind Krishna, among many other alums who lead the tech sector) were founded on the principle of cultivating the scientific temper and preparing the engineers that will build the newly independent postcolonial nation.
Inherent in the construction of the IITs is a Brahminical structure that privileges specific forms of merit that draw upon the historic hierarchies of caste in India.
The very notion of merit is rooted in and intrinsically intertwined with caste in the Indian context.
That caste hierarchies and the accompanying oppressions have shaped access to learning resources and opportunities for learning are erased from the hegemonic caste formations that shape education, and certainly engineering education, in India.
These caste hierarchies are intensified in the IITs, with their projection of elite education based on the hyper-competitive joint entrance examination.
At IIT, Kharagpur, the Institution I attended, the caste structure played out in the largely Brahmin men, and the occasional Brahmin women, that formed the professorial ranks. The Mukherjees, Chatterjees, Banerjees, and the Bhattacharyas (Bengali Brahmins) made up these ranks, replete with the taken-for-granted practices of inclusion and exclusion, rooted in caste supremacy. In the 1990s when I attended the IITs, it was rare to take a course from a dalit professor.
It would be worthwhile to examine the caste composition of the Professoriate in the IITs in 2022.
Marked as “quota students,” dalits are subjected to racialized slurs challenging their intelligence and their right to be in the IITs. These racialized slurs were often uttered by peers and reinforced by Professors.
The power of the caste infrastructure is held up through communication, through gossip networks that undermine, through racialized slurs, and through practices of touch and body that exclude.
In 2021, an IIT Kharagpur Professor was video recorded bullying and verbally abusing dalit students. This recording offered an account of practices of casteist violence that are deep-seated in the institutions.
Caste-based inequality flows from education into the technology sectors, with discriminatory practices around touch, racialized verbal and emotional abuse, and denial of opportunities to dalits built into organizational structures.
Global technology organizations such as Google have large representation of South Asians, with a strong presence of Indians.
For Indians in such tech organizations, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) forms a key resource in addressing the challenges of organizational bias and structural racism.
Hindutva-espousing professionals within organizations such as Google then communicatively invert caste, on one hand, erasing the presence of caste, and on the other hand, claiming that any discussion of caste in Hinduism is Hinduphobic and will result in discrimination of Hindus. The erasure of caste oppression then is incorporated into the discursive architecture, denying caste oppression while perpetuating it.
Salient in the farewell note of Tanuja Gupta to Google is the following account:
“Of all the organizing I have done at this company, I think many are surprised that fighting for caste equity was the lightning rod issue that took me down. But I have an Indian CEO and SVP who both know exactly what’s going on and tacitly approve of everything that’s happened. I know this because multiple VPs and Directors confirmed that in Sundar’s Leads meeting, they discussed the need for a new universal vetting process of speakers to ensure this doesn’t happen again. So my hope is that Googlers start to understand the magnitude of this issue, and the threat that their greater understanding poses to the South Asians in power.”
The discussion of caste in global tech organizations threatens the power consolidated by upper caste Indians within these organizations. The discussion of caste disrupts the carefully crafted model minority narrative that is essential to the upward mobility of Indians in the tech sector and to the perpetuation of the meritocratic myth that fuels the tech sector. The discussion of caste threatens to reveal the misogyny, violence, and racism that forms the communicative infrastructure of a cross-section of Hindu society.
Paradoxically, the claims to DEI serve as tools for shutting down necessary discussions of caste violence in tech.
The silencing of the voices of dalits within organizational structures is violence that perpetuates Hindutva. Moreover, the erasure of conversations on caste in tech forecloses critical conversations on the role of caste in shaping algorithms and platform infrastructures. These are critical questions as the speak to the organizing role of a racist ideology in shaping platform algorithms and search engines. Critical conversations on caste led by dalits is vital to building just platform architectures.
Professor Mohan Dutta isDean’s Chair Professor of Communication. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right.
Google #ThenmozhiSoundararajan #EqualityLabs #Dalits #IITKharagpur #IndianInstitutesOfTechnologies #Hindutva #CAREMassey #CAREMasseyNZ #CARECCA
Ibrahim Omer became an MP to represent communities who often struggle to have their voices heard. His experience spans fleeing his home country, being in a refugee camp, working as a minimum wage cleaner, graduating from university, and representing low paid workers as a union organiser.
Rebecca Macfie is an award winning New Zealand journalist, with a background in workplace, health and safety, business and climate writing. She is the author of Tragedy at Pike River Mine:How and why 29 men died (2013), and Helen Kelly: Her Life (2021).
Anita Rosentreter is the Strategic Project Coordinator for Transport, Logistics and Manufacturing at FIRST Union. She leads the campaign Real Work Real Jobs, which aims to turn insecure work into secure work. Target groups include gig workers, those in labour hire, and dependent contractors.
presented by Prof. Mohan Dutta and Dr. Leon Salter with panelists Ibrahim Omer, Anita Rosentreter and Rebecca Macfie
CARE EVENT UPDATE: Unfortunately, tonight’s CARE White Paper Launch: Experiences with COVID-19 Among Gig Workers is rescheduled to Monday 14th March 2022.We will be in touch with you soon with an updated time. Apologies for any inconvenience. Thank you.
CARE White Paper Launch: Experiences with COVID-19 Among Gig Workers- presented by Prof. Mohan Dutta and Dr. Leon Salter with panelists Ibrahim Omer, Anita Rosentreter and Rebecca Macfie.Abstract: Experiences with COVID-19 Among Gig Workers : Findings from interviews with 25 rideshare and delivery drivers about their navigation of precarious working conditions in a pandemic environment.Monday, 14th March 2022 @ 12 pm NZDT-TBC Location Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/CAREMassey/videos/984089835577558 and on CARE YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF760E7rBst3U5GmJ5FhDDw
CARE: Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation stands in solidarity with its research team members Richa Sharma, Balamohan Shingade, and others (Indigenous women and women of colour) not mentioned in this report for their courage in documenting extremist #Hindutva nationalism and in building culture-centered preventive interventions rooted in dialogue, peace, and voice.
Richa Sharma was doing research on religious extremism in Aotearoa when she got a call from her mother. Her aunties and uncles, close family friends who have known her since she was born, were convinced she was a terrorist.
For a few months last year, Richa Sharma did not go out after dark, always making sure she had safe ways to get around for work and meetings.
The 18-year-old was interning at Care, a Massey University research centre that was copping online abuse for publishing a white paper about the far-right nationalist ideology known as Hindutva and its creeping presence in Aotearoa.
There were calls for centre director Professor Mohan Dutta to be sacked, even burned alive. Police said the trolls were overseas, but an Auckland-based Indian news site published a piece calling Dutta a “left-leaning bigot under the garb of an academician”, and part of “a gang of some smelly rats”.
The Hindu Council and Hindu Youth New Zealand chimed in with nearly identical statements, condemning the paper for “accusatory and unsubstantiated assertions” that made the Hindu community look bad. Hindu Youth said it was “outright Hindu hatred”.
Most of the vitriol was directed at Dutta but his team, some of them South Asian and female, were not spared. Their profiles were public on the Care website and social media pages.
“We had to watch our steps carefully,” said Sharma, now 19. “I really didn’t feel safe. We had a police file open.”
Shortly after, an auntie and uncle reached out to Sharma’s mother back home in Palmerston North. They were not related by blood but it was custom in the community to address close family friends as auntie and uncle.
Over tea, Sharma’s mother was told her daughter worked for an anti-Hindu outfit and was urged to intervene. Auntie and uncle were convinced Sharma was a “left-wing, radical terrorist”.
Another auntie sent text messages condemning the white paper, including a petition against Massey University to take it down.