Naritas Finance



Business News

How Twitter got blindsided by India’s still-toxic caste system

  • Written by Hari Bapuji, Associate professor, University of Melbourne

Twitter chief Jack Dorsey’s first visit to India had been going so well. He got to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi (an avid Tweeter with 44.5 million followers), “King of Bollywood” Shah Rukh Khan (36.8 million followers), and the Dalai Lama (18.8 million followers).

Then a single tweet had him being accused of hate mongering. There was talk of an Indian boycott of Twitter, and even of developing a rival Indian platform like China’s Weibo. A senior parliamentary official saw a case to prosecute Dorsey for attempting “to destabilise the nation”. A court in the northern state of Rajasthan ordered a police investigation.

Dorsey’s offence: holding a poster that proclaimed “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy[1]”.

How Twitter got blindsided by India’s still-toxic caste system Twitter’s Jack Dorsey with the ‘Smash Brahminical Patriarchy’ poster that has him accused of hate-mongering.

The poster was given to Dorsey by Sanghapali Aruna, an activist for the rights of Dalits, the bottom most group in the Indian caste system. The controversy resulting demonstrates just how potent caste remains, and how blind to it are the multinational corporations eyeing off the Indian market.

A short guide to caste …

To understand what the fuss is about, we need to understand the age-old caste system in the Indian subcontinent, and its complexities.

Caste is similar to a social class, but mobility is impossible and discrimination can occur among those of the same economic class. It is similar to the idea of race, but can be perpetuated by those within the same ethnic group. It originated in Hinduism, but has been absorbed by Muslims, Christians and Sikhs.

Read more: Racial and caste oppression have many similarities[2]

The system[3] can be traced to the Manusmriti code of Hindu laws, which suggests Brahma, the Hindu god of creation, created four categories of people from his own body: Brahmins from his head, Kshatriyas from his arms, Vysyas from his thighs, and Shudras from his feet.

This origin ordained an occupational hierarchy. You inherited your caste from your father, and that determined your future. The Brahmins were the priests and advisers – and primary enforcers of the caste system. The Kshatriyas were warriors and soldiers. Then Vysyas farmers and traders. The Shudras workers and tradespeople.

Beneath the Shudras were the Dalits – the “untouchables” – tasked with all menial jobs, including cleaning and disposing of the dead.

How Twitter got blindsided by India’s still-toxic caste system Lower caste jobs include ‘manual scavenging’ – emptying certain types of dry toilet by hand. Though the practice was formally prohibited in India in 1993, it continues to occur. Donald Yip /

The system imposed codes of conduct and rules for interaction between castes. Mixed marriages, for example, were forbidden. So too was physical contact with all Dalits, who were condemned to live away from the village[4] and had no right to public places, such as temples.

Although discrimination against Dalits was outlawed by India’s constitution in 1950, caste-based prejudices live on, and are even inflamed by Dalits asserting the right to equality[5].

Read more: Why are there so few Dalit entrepreneurs? The problem of India's casted capitalism[6]

The constitution also enshrined affirmative-action programs for Dalits and other marginalised groups in the public sector, but across the Indian economy they continue to occupy the lowest rungs. Centuries of caste-based discrimination has enabled deep economic inequalities[7] that still influence the opportunities and rewards given to individuals.

… and to patriarchy

Dalit women have the worst of it. They face discrimination from other castes, as well as from men within their own caste. They are more likely to be trafficked and subjected to contemporary slavery. They are still forced into temple prostitution known as Devdasi or Jogini systems[8].

Traditional ideas about gender roles still affect what is considered appropriate for women to do, what they can wear and who they can interact with. Women resisting such patriarchal notions can face reprisal, from abuse to violence, rape, and even murder[9].

Read more: India's caste system extends to uneven access to cooking fuel and electricity[10]

The interrelationship between caste hierarchy and gender hierarchy in traditional Indian culture is known as the “Brahmanical social order[11]”. That Aruna’s poster referred to “Brahminical patriarchy” has offended some as a more direct attack on Brahmins[12], not just the caste system. This may be reading too much into it. Others have reacted to the poster as an attack Hinduism. Yet others have been offended by a foreigner seemingly lecturing Indians on something he knows little about.

How Twitter got blindsided by India’s still-toxic caste system Women sort through piles of rubbish in Calcutta. JeremyRichards /

Twitter’s ecosystem challenge

It is into this landscape that Twitter’s chief lumbered.

India is Twitter’s most important developing market. Its population will soon overtake that of China, where the government blocks Twitter. Though the eight million Indians who actively use Twitter is still less than a quarter of the Americans who do, US user numbers have plateaued while the Indian market is growing at five times the global average.

Twitter is also arguably important to India. It has given Dalit women and other marginalised people a platform to voice their concerns. But it has also facilitated trolling and abuse. In mid-November Shehla Rashid, a student leader with more than 500,000 followers, quit the platform as an “SOS call to Twitter”. Describing the platform as an ecosystem of “toxicity and negativity[13]”, she said: “It is not freedom of expression but an attack on freedom of expression.”

Listening, not hearing

This is the reason Dorsey met with Aruna and other women at the end of his India trip: to hear firsthand their concerns about the way Twitter facilitates abuse and threats[14].

Read more: The Dalits of India are finding new ways to fight the caste system[15]

The company’s reaction to the aftermath would not have persuaded the women they had been heard. Twitter quickly declared Dorsey was merely holding the poster because he had been given it as a gift, and that the poster’s sentiments were not Twitter’s official position. Twitter’s chief legal advisor, Indian-born Vijaya Gadde, apologised for failing to be “an impartial platform for all[16]”.

Such a response was “hypocritical[17]”, declared journalist Sidharth Bhatia, because Twitter “apologised to those very people whom the poster was calling out, only because they are noisier and better organised”.

Multinational blind spots

How could Twitter be blindsided by caste?

One reason may be a problem shared by most multinational companies operating in India. They might promote gender and ethnic diversity in their home countries, but caste is less obvious to them. Unconsciously they might even be perpetuating the caste system.

When multinationals hire, they prefer people with a certain type of family background and cosmopolitan profile. Those from upper castes – beneficiaries of accumulated advantage over centuries – tend to fit that bill. As a result they are more likely to get hired and promoted to positions of power[18]. Thus, the caste system is unconsciously replicated.

Multinationals – and indeed all companies in India interested in its future prosperity – need to think about the ways in which caste inequalities operate[19]. They must work to improve caste diversity in their ranks, such as through including caste in audits and educating their workforce.

Twitter has an additional challenge. It needs to ensure its platform is not a tool of caste and other forms of discrimination. Taking responsibility and cleaning up trolling, bullying and harassment on its platform would be a major public service to Indian society – and to democratic conversations everywhere.

Authors: Hari Bapuji, Associate professor, University of Melbourne

Read more

Business Daily Media Business Development

Bahrain Property Show 2018: How does it reflect the real estate market development in Bahrain

It is no secret that the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are currently going through a lot of pivotal changes. Such changes do not include economic or po...

News Company - avatar News Company

Di Jones real estate recognises high achievers

Di Jones celebrated its outstanding performers on Saturday (24 February 2018) evening at the Di Jones Real Estate Annual Awards.                               The black-tie Gala Dinner s...

Helen Hull - avatar Helen Hull

Five Reasons Melbourne Rules

If you are traveling in Australia and have left Melbourne off your destination list, then you are going to want to reconsider. Many people consider Melbourne to the best city in the world...

News Feature Team - avatar News Feature Team

Making Friends During Your Campsite Stay

Part of the excitement of vacation is meeting people who you would never otherwise encounter. Staying at a campsite isn’t just about taking in nature. It’s also about sharing the beauty of n...

News Feature Team - avatar News Feature Team

Have More Fun On Your Business Trips

Whether you are a traveling salesman or someone who finds themselves on the road more than in their office you probably are grateful for any tips you can get especially if they involve havin...

News Feature Team - avatar News Feature Team

Traditions of Rural Bali at Villa Sabana

A Privileged Insight into the Traditions of Rural Bali at Villa Sabana  Situated in the traditional village of Pererenan near Canggu, Villa Sabana is peacefully secluded in a semi-rural...

Linda Lim - avatar Linda Lim

Business Daily Media Business Reports

Di Jones real estate recognises high achievers

Di Jones celebrated its outstanding performers on Saturday (24 February 2018) evening at the Di Jones Real Estate Annual Awards.                               The bla...

Helen Hull - avatar Helen Hull

Eclipse Travel Expands Operations to New Zealand

Eclipse Travel, specialists in key adventure destinations such as Antarctica, the Arctic, Africa and Latin America, have announced today their expansion of operations to ...

Yvonne Kong - avatar Yvonne Kong

How medical professionals can benefit from an overall wealth management solution

As a health care professional, you have made it your life's work to focus on the care and health of the general public. While this kind of work can be extremely rewarding...

News Feature Team - avatar News Feature Team

Why Pinterest Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

Pinterest is a growing social media platform that can deliver significant traffic to your website and new followers to your brand. With it’s steady growth and outrageous ...

Greg Nunan - avatar Greg Nunan

The top reasons why gyms fail

Steve Grant is a Business Coach and Founder of   Every month thousands of new trainers walk out of their 6-month course with the qualifications needed ...

Steve Grant - avatar Steve Grant

WHITE LABEL NOBA’s Winter 2016 season: Earth + Country

Taking cues from the warm winter colours of tobacco and caramel, and combining them with the strength of navy and the embracing lightness of whites and creams; and then...

Kath Rose - avatar Kath Rose

Former Etihad boss brings substantial event insight to PMY Group Board

Paul Sergeant PMY Group, the architects of the digital insurgency occurring at major venues across Australia and New Zealand, are delighted to welcome 35 year even...

Annie Konieczny - avatar Annie Konieczny

More training for coffee making than property sales: REINSW

Sydney 9 May 2016. An overhaul of education and training standards for the real estate profession must take place to help prevent illegal activities, according to the Rea...

Helen Hull - avatar Helen Hull