Trapped in Silicon Valley’s Hidden Caste System

Siddhant was 14 when he realized of the watch. His father, a low-wage employee on the Indian railway, was making an attempt to save lots of up for it, tucking away a number 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 liable for weakening the caste system’s grip on Indian society.

After faculty, Siddhant appreciated 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 along with his mates, all anti-caste activists. Inside, he’d discover the boys 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 pal 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 distinct model of the watch. A present from a big-shot pal, this one was comparatively luxe. As an alternative of the metallic 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 essentially 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 scorching iron rod that melted the straps again onto the only. Seeing his father’s watch, one thing clicked: This was an emblem of every thing he was after—to be an elite, educated Dalit, similar to Ambedkar.

Siddhant’s father made him a deal. If Siddhant completed highschool with first honors, he may have the watch. A 12 months later, Siddhant got here residence brandishing his report card from the Maharashtra board of training: He’d achieved 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 each day since—whereas driving 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 proposal bundle that totaled nearly $450,000.

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

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