Casteism in the US: Entrepreneurs and a new report on Indian American attitudes

19th February 2021

We continue to cover stories of the South Asian diaspora across the globe. And in America, there have been a couple of interesting articles that have come out over the last week.

As is well known, many US companies employ Indian immigrants to work in technology and, as has only recently been revealed, casteism seems to follow them. The statistics suggest that less than 2 per cent of the Indian immigrants that make up senior executives in the US are from ‘lower’ castes. At junior levels, when an employee’s caste is discovered, they may be ousted from social circles, have their work criticised where previously there were no complaints and have difficulty getting promoted. However, it seems that some have taken advantage of immigration to the US by setting themselves up as entrepreneurs, free from the hierarchy of ‘caste’, where there is the belief that business trumps all. Yet despite this, some who have reported on their success as an entrepreneur prefer not to be named, as even a surname can denote one’s caste and leave one open to criticism.

The other article of note discusses how significant the impact of Indian Americans is on government and policy. Making up the second-largest migrant population and just over 1% of the total population of the US, Vice-President Kamala Harris, whose mother is Indian, is probably the most high-profile example of Indian Americans holding a political position. Consequently, it has become increasingly important to gather information on the concerns and beliefs of South Asians.

The research was carried out by the Carnegie Endowment for National Peace, and covers a wide range of subjects. Interestingly, the issue of casteism was rated 7th most concerning in the list of top issues in India, behind Government Corruption, Economy, Religious Majoritarianism, Healthcare, China and Terrorism, but before Education, Income Inequality, Environment/Climate Change, and Sexism/Gender Discrimination. It was the first issue of concern for just 6% of Indian Americans, the second for 11% and third for 9%. The low figures perhaps reflect the proportion of so-called ‘higher’ caste members within the diaspora, to whom caste is of little relevance – as discrimination does not affect them – backed up by associating the figures for the level of support for Modi, the BJP and Hindu nationalism.

The report provides some very interesting information, but it also highlights that there is still a lot to do in terms of raising awareness of casteism amongst these US citizens.