April holds significant importance for Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi (DBA) community, encompassing the birth of Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar and the death anniversary of Mahatma Jyotirao Phule. Inspired by Black History Month, a group of Dalit women launched the Dalit History Month project in April 2015 in the US and ever since, April has been recognised as Dalit History Month dedicated to recognizing and commemorating the contributions, struggles, and achievements of Dalits.

Penning down this article is my way of celebrating Dalit History Month. It attempts to raise some of the most pervasive questions and challenge the perceptions that I couldn’t do growing up but feel confident now to address them.
Let’s break down the concept of the caste system for the neophytes.

The caste system is a hierarchy that divides people into rigid social groups based on their birth, occupation and perceived purity. At the top of the caste system are the Brahmins, traditionally priests, teachers and intellectuals, who are considered the highest caste due to their association with knowledge and spirituality. Below them are the Kshatriyas, who historically were warriors and rulers, responsible for protection and governance. Then come the Vaishyas, who are merchants and landowners, responsible for commerce and agriculture. At the bottom are the Shudras, who typically perform manual labour, artisans and service roles.

Outside of this four-fold varna system are the Dalits, formerly known as “untouchables,” who have historically been relegated to the lowest social positions, performing tasks considered ritually impure, such as sanitation work.

The Oldest Civil Rights Movement

One of the earliest recorded instances of organized resistance by Dalits is the Bhakti movement in medieval India, where some Bhakti saints like Ravidas and Kabir challenged caste-based discrimination through their teachings and actions.
However, it was during the British colonial rule in the 19th and early 20th centuries that the Dalit rights movement took more organized forms. Leaders like Jyotirao Phule, Ambedkar, and Periyar E.V. Ramasamy played pivotal roles in advocating for the rights of Dalits and challenging the caste system through social and political reforms.
P.S. Comparing the timelines, the modern Dalit rights movement predates the organized Black rights movement in the United States by several decades. And yet, it is the least acknowledged dimension of diversity by corporate India. Hmmm, wonder why…!?

Busting some common myths and misconceptions

1. Caste is a Thing of the Past and is no longer relevant in modern India. While overt expressions of caste discrimination may be less visible in certain contexts, caste-based prejudices and inequalities still exist and can manifest in subtle ways, including social interactions, workplace dynamics, and access to opportunities. How many Dalits do we have in the senior leadership positions today? How do young Dalit professionals aspire to grow when there is no visibility of people like them at the top? Why do you think some of us stop using our last name or change it to a more neutral last name that doesn’t give away our caste?

2. Caste doesn’t affect urban professionals: There’s a misconception that caste only affects people in rural or traditional settings and doesn’t influence the lives of urban professionals, particularly those in corporate environments. However, caste identities can still play a role in urban areas, influencing social networks, cultural practices, and even hiring practices in some cases. You might have noticed tiffin or catering service providers dropping their last name or casually mention their caste to promote their small scale businesses. Several times I have come across house helps informing their caste when they are being interviewed. Why do you think they do that? What are they trying to really convey? And more importantly, why does it appease most of us when it’s not even relevant?

3. Meritocracy Eradicates Caste Discrimination: Another myth is that meritocracy alone can overcome caste-based inequalities. While merit-based systems are essential for promoting fairness and equal opportunities, they don’t automatically eliminate the structural barriers and biases that stem from the caste system. Factors like socio-economic background, access to education, and inherited privileges can still shape outcomes, even in ostensibly meritocratic environments. For example, a “self-made” non-Dalit person may rightfully take pride in their accomplishments but they can not undermine the contribution of knowing the right people, being present at the right time, role of better education, access to private and confidential information, being welcomed in influential circles etc. which comes with the unacknowledged privilege of upper caste.

4. Caste Is Irrelevant in Globalized Corporate Culture: Many of us acknowledged the caste system as a diversity dimension for the first time when we heard about the Google case involving allegations of caste discrimination in 2020 and later again in 2022 for cancelling a talk on caste bias. And yet, larger population believes that caste distinctions are irrelevant and therefore overlooked. However, caste identities can persist among Indian employees, influencing interpersonal dynamics, social networks, and career trajectories, even in multicultural settings.

5. Caste-Based Reservation Leads to Reverse Discrimination: Some individuals believe that affirmative action policies, such as caste-based reservations in education and employment, unfairly disadvantage those from higher castes. While debates around reservation policies are complex and multifaceted, they aim to address historical injustices and create opportunities for marginalized communities to participate in social and economic life on an equal footing. Some of us are privileged to have generational wealth and family money. Well, most of the Dalit folks are only familiar with generational trauma and family debts. How can an oppression that lasted centuries and generations and deeply impacted the perception of self-worth and identity be nullified through reservations that provide opportunity to a smaller fraction of relatively privileged minority while the larger underprivileged Dalit population continues to live in the shadow and dust? And how fair is the tendency to exemplify a handful of successful Dalit figures to portray and glorify the current reality of the Dalit community today?


This article raises a lot of questions and puts forth a point of view that may make some readers uncomfortable. A few might feel offended too. But that’s a risk I am willing to take.

In today’s world, where there’s a growing emphasis on playing it safe and being politically correct, it’s time for not just organizations, but for all of us to embrace a more courageous approach. Inclusion will take courage, it will need asking and answering tough questions and getting out of our comfort zones, even questioning our own privilege if necessary.

It’s disheartening to see that Dalit History Month often goes unnoticed and uncelebrated in Indian corporate circles. However, true progress requires us to recognize and confront uncomfortable truths, including the pervasive issue of caste bias.
Instead of shying away from topics like casteism, let’s embrace the opportunity to foster open dialogue and understanding within our organizations, our networks. For change rarely comes without discomfort, and meaningful progress often requires challenging the status quo!

Jai Bhim!

P.S. “Jai Bhim” is a greeting of great cultural and political significance among Dalit community, supporters of Ambedkarite ideology, allies and advocates of social justice and equality. Using this greeting is a great way of demonstrating your allyship to the community.

Read the article : Indian DEI Landscape under Casting Shadow