Who Is Thenmozhi Soundararajan? Google Cancels Dalit Activist’s Talk On Caste

Who is Thenmozhi Soundararajan
Google is under the scanner for cancelling a talk scheduled by US-based Dalit activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan. The tech giant allegedly buckled under the pressure from employees who claimed that their “lives were at risk” if Thenmozhi’s talk–which was supposedly a part of the company’s Diversity Equity Inclusivity program for employee sensitisation–went as planned.

An in-depth report by the Washington Post revealed that the company’s employees sent out mass emails through the company intranet calling the activist, who is also the Executive Director of Equality Labs, a Dalit civil rights organization, as “Hindu-phobic” and “anti-Hindu”.

According to the report, the subsequent cancellation of the talk is being seen as the direct fallout of a campaign by pro-Hindu groups inside Google. The issue snowballed after Tanuja Gupta, a senior manager at Google, who had invited Soundararajan to deliver the talk quit to protest the revoking of her invite.

It further stated that when Gupta posted a link to a petition to have the talk again [after it was cancelled], other South Asian employees reverted saying there is no caste in the US, caste discrimination does not exist, and people from oppressed castes are less educated, and so on. It further stated that people called caste equity a form of  “reverse discrimination against upper castes” because of India’s reservation system.

Thenmozhi expressed her disdain and said, “Most institutions wouldn’t do what Google did. It’s absurd. The bigoted don’t get to the set the pace of conversations about civil rights,” she said.

The tech-giant’s spokesperson Shannon Newberry wrote to Washington Post saying caste discrimination had no place in Google and added, “We also 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 rancour.”

Who Is Thenmozhi Soundararajan?

Thenmozhi is the United States-based Dalit Rights Activist, a transmedia storyteller, songwriter, musician and technologist. Born into a family in a rural area in India’s Tamil Nadu, Thenmozhi first learned that she was part of the Dalit community as a child. Her father is a doctor and reportedly, her mother was the first woman in her family to receive a college education.

Soundararajan made a documentary film on caste and violence against women as a part of her thesis while studying at the University of California, Berkeley. Since her public revelation of her caste, she says that she faced discrimination from almost all of the Indian professors on the campus.

Thenmozhi is currently Executive Director for Equality Labs and has given talks on caste at Microsoft, Salesforce, Airbnb, Netflix, and Adobe. The organisation began receiving speaking invitations from tech companies in the wake of the George Floyd protests. She was formerly the president of the Ambedkarites Association of North America (AANA), which has chapters across the US, Mexico and Canada. AANA is a globally recognised anti-caste campaigner who has brought international attention to the South Asian system of social segregation.

Suggested Reading: Caste And Education: Why Education Must Be Anti-Caste?