Trapped in Silicon Valley’s Hidden Caste System


Siddhant was 14 when he discovered of the watch. His father, a low-wage employee on the Indian railway, was attempting to save lots of up for it, tucking away a couple of rupees when he may. Made from metal, the watch had in its dial a sketch of a portly man, his face framed by spherical glasses and his broad shoulders clad in a wide-lapelled jacket. It was his father’s hero, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the person most accountable for weakening the caste system’s grip on Indian society.

After college, Siddhant favored to journey his bike down the crowded streets of Nagpur, India, previous teams of children enjoying cricket, to a squat concrete constructing the place his father rented a modest workplace together with his mates, all anti-caste activists. Inside, he’d discover the lads sitting in plastic chairs, swapping tales of their exploits with Ambedkar, surrounded by posters of the person and newspapers spilling off bookshelves. As he sat listening, Siddhant couldn’t assist however discover as one good friend after which one other and a 3rd appeared on the workplace with the watch strapped to their wrists.

Someday, Siddhant confirmed up on his bike and, to his immense shock, noticed on his father a special model of the watch. A present from a big-shot good friend, this one was comparatively luxe. As a substitute of the steel strap it had a leather-based band, and it was quartz, battery-powered reasonably than a windup. Siddhant couldn’t assist however blurt out: “I would like that watch!”

Siddhant, like his father, is a Dalit, a member of probably the most oppressed caste in South Asia’s birth-based hierarchy. Even amongst Dalits, their household was particularly poor. Siddhant typically spent his evenings crouched close to the firepit the place his household cooked their meals, repairing his torn rubber sandals with a sizzling iron rod that melted the straps again onto the only real. Seeing his father’s watch, one thing clicked: This was a logo of every little thing he was after—to be an elite, educated Dalit, identical to Ambedkar.

Siddhant’s father made him a deal. If Siddhant completed highschool with first honors, he may have the watch. A yr later, Siddhant got here residence brandishing his report card from the Maharashtra board of schooling: He’d accomplished it. Whereas his father, beaming, scanned the outcomes, Siddhant grabbed the watch off a shelf and adjusted the strap to his wrist.

Siddhant has worn the watch practically every single day since—whereas using his bike 12 miles to school, whereas incomes his first paycheck as an engineer, whereas getting married. When he flew throughout the Atlantic to start out a tech profession within the Bay Space, he wore it. It was on his wrist when he interviewed for, and landed, the job that satisfied him he would possibly lastly escape the orbital pull of India and his household’s multigenerational poverty: as a software program engineer at Fb, with a suggestion bundle that totaled virtually $450,000.

In Silicon Valley, it’s routine for folks from India to land high-paying jobs; they make up a full quarter of the technical workforce. But these successes have, virtually solely, come from traditionally privileged castes. Seven many years after India legally abolished “untouchability,” many Dalits nonetheless cope with monumental setbacks—hate crimes, poverty, restricted financial alternative.

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