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Celebrate the success of Indians abroad without dragging the caste

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agarwalvj
agarwalvj
Born in village Kotah (Saharanpur), Vijendra Agarwal, left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee but always remained connected with his roots. A researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he came to the US in 1978. He served as faculty and academic administrator (Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering) in several universities, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during Clinton administration. Following his voluntary retirement in 2014, he and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward education, health, and empowerment of girls and overall development. An Indian at heart, his passion for writing has no boundaries. This includes policy, politics and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement. Currently, he is the Brand Ambassador for Times of India and frequently blogs on Linkedin on various topics.

I am surprised why so much chatter on social media and in print about the newly appointed CEO of Twitter, Parag Agrawal (PA)? Some celebratory discussions and pride are natural and spontaneous because such accomplishments don’t come easy in the highly competitive global environment. It is important to note that PA is among about a dozen CEOs of Indian origin in the U.S. but still PA appears to have attracted greater attention some of which got unduly associated with the poorly understood and distorted caste issue. In fact, PA’s appointment has nothing to do with his caste but with his doctoral-level education, talent, diverse experiences, and skills.

Let us note that anyone rising to the level of a CEO or high-profile position requires intellect and hosts of other skills like problem-solving, ability to weather and function in a highly stressful environment, social adaptability, resiliency to criticism, and most importantly excellent interpersonal relationship. In that, PA and other high-level professionals of Indian origin anywhere are deserving of accolades by the Indian diaspora and/or people in India. However, neither we should blow things out of proportion nor the accomplishments in the U.S. be valued more than the successes attained in India.

I am pleased that BBC, for a change, had a relatively positive narrative, “Parag Agrawal: Why Indian-born CEOs dominate Silicon Valley.” This article explains why only about 1% (people of India-origin) of the U.S. population account for about 6% of Silicon Valley’s workforce and are disproportionately represented in the top brass. The quotes from several people familiar with India’s culture, values, and education system suggest that India equips Indians to be “natural managers.” For example, it states that Nadella (Microsoft CEO) and Pichai (Alphabet CEO) bring a certain amount of caution, reflection, and a “gentler” culture. Additionally, the ability of Indian managers to navigate complex situations, particularly scaling the organizations plus a “hard-work” ethic are quoted per the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, another American Indian who co-founded Sun Microsystems. Nothing could be more positive narration.

However, the article brought in the “caste” by calling these CEOs “triply selected.” The triple includes the upper-caste privileged Indians who could afford to go to a reputed college, a smaller sliver that could finance a master in the US, and the visa system which favored specific skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to meet the “high-end labor market needs”. The assertion that the upper-caste privileged study at the reputed colleges is not quite justified. Today’s reservation system for SC/ST and OBC’s at the IITs and NITs, the best government institutions, makes studying as, if not more, affordable and accessible to the so-called lower caste aspirants in comparison to upper-caste students. Ideally, the caste issue should not have been invoked but it should be noted that any advantage to upper caste is a thing of the past and now the opportunities for the lower caste students are significantly higher.

In another article, PA’s ascendence was sadly touted as “Baniya Power in the house,” by the digital influencer Malini Agarwal. Although, she has deleted the tweet and later apologized after the damage was already done. As a Baniya myself, with no relation to PA, I was also pleased to see PA named Twitter CEO but the angry responses on social media were unpleasant and undesirable. There was no need to discuss a comparison between Brahmins and Baniyas/Vaishyas. The Brahmins may have dominated IITs and now Baniyas are catching up but the fact that both belong to the upper caste is unduly invoking the caste issue.

For example, the opportunist, Hinduphobic, and Dalit activist, Thenmozhi Soundarajan, of the Equality Labs joined White Supremacists in targeting PA over the caste. They falsely assumed PA to be a Brahmin and Soundarrajan stated the unexpected, claiming an unfounded tradition for “White cismen (Jack Dorsey)” to transfer power to “Brahmin cismen (PA)” in the Silicon Valley. She goes on to question if PA would also remain silent about Caste? How shameful for Soundarajan for not knowing that PA belongs to Vaishya and not the Brahmin community yet she has been igniting the unwarranted caste issue in the U.S. targeting the high-tech industry and academic institutions with a fairly large presence of Indian Americans. This proves that she has little or no knowledge of India’s ancient Varna system but she continues to twist the caste issue to gain notoriety and accuses Hindu Americans at large to be discriminating against Dalits without evidence.

It is notable that Dilip Mandal, a Dalit himself, hailed PA’s appointment as the head of Twitter saying that he is not alone to shake the Brahmin dominance at IITs, which, I believe is not true. Mandal once called the Twitter India head Maheshwari a caste bigot for allegedly being unfair to Dalits and not verifying his own Twitter handle. But after his account was verified, he demanded removal, saying that everyone should get an ‘equal status’ on Twitter. But now that they have learned that PA is not Brahmin, they are hailing him as someone who smashed ‘Brahmin supremacy at Twitter.’

As concluding thoughts, I must assert that any association of PA’s selection as Twitter CEO with his caste, religion, and/or national origin is totally unfounded and unwarranted. I firmly believe that he was chosen to lead Twitter because of his proven talent, skills, and abilities. Another point is that PA is of Indian origin but the CEO of a U.S. company and therefore, expecting him to be an advantage for India and Indians is futile and unfair. A corporation must always keep the profits front and center for its shareholders and if that warrants Twitter to make more investments in India and/or hiring more Indian talent, PA will readily do it. Let us just hope that PA and other CEOs don’t let India down and not interpret Rajiv Malhotra’s phrase ‘caste, cows and curry’ as human rights issues. Let that phrase represent the exotic and sensational portrayals of India’s social and economic problems as it was meant by Malhotra.

Finally, let us remember that people like PA gave up their Indian passports, and thus they are U.S. citizens of Indian origin. I am one of those with an allegiance to the U.S. However, for Indian-origin CEOs or anyone, it does not preclude advocating, protecting, and promoting our culture, heritage, and India’s ancient Dharmik values like Sarve Bhavantu Sukhino and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

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agarwalvj
agarwalvj
Born in village Kotah (Saharanpur), Vijendra Agarwal, left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee but always remained connected with his roots. A researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he came to the US in 1978. He served as faculty and academic administrator (Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering) in several universities, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during Clinton administration. Following his voluntary retirement in 2014, he and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward education, health, and empowerment of girls and overall development. An Indian at heart, his passion for writing has no boundaries. This includes policy, politics and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement. Currently, he is the Brand Ambassador for Times of India and frequently blogs on Linkedin on various topics.
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