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Formed in 2000, the IDSN is a network of international organisations, national solidarity networks and affected country groups, campaigning against caste-based discrimination throughout the world, from the dalits of South Asia to the Osu of Nigeria and the Burakumin of Japan. Visit our website International Dalit Solidarity Network for more information. SUBMIT DALIT NEWS HERE

Monday, January 15, 2007  
‘IT sector is not immune to caste bias’

13 January 2007

A recent survey finds few employees from backward castes or poor families in the industry

PC Vinoj KumarChennai

Companies vie for talent from the top 50 colleges and the students most often are the affluentHas the Indian information technology (IT) industry become the preserve of upper castes? Sociologists who have studied the socio-economic profile of the industry’s workforce believe so. A study conducted by Carol Upadhya and AR Vasavi of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, states that the IT “workforce is less heterogeneous than is commonly assumed, and that the large majority of IT professionals come from middle class, educated, urban backgrounds, and from the upper castes.” Of the 132 software engineers who were interviewed, 71 percent belonged to the upper castes. About half were Brahmins. Eighty-four percent of the respondents were from middle class families, while only 5 percent hailed from rural areas.

Other studies have arrived at similar conclusions. “Oomen and Meenakshisundararajan (2005), in their survey of 100 software professionals in Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Thiruvananthapuram, found that 12 percent were from rural areas. Three-fourths of their respondents were found to be from forward castes and the rest from backward castes. None were from the sc/st categories,” points out the NIAS report. However, the report concedes, “Like our sample, most of their respondents worked in the major IT companies such as tcs and Wipro, so the sample is biased towards the ‘cream’ of the IT workforce.” The report further states, “Fuller and Narasimhan’s (2006) smaller study of software professionals in Chennai also found that they come overwhelmingly from Brahmin or forward caste, middle class, urban backgrounds.”

The NIAS study found the socio-economic profile of bpo employees similar to that of those from the IT industry. Fifty-eight percent of the respondents were from metros, and 36 percent from tier two towns such as Mysore and Coimbatore. Thirty-two percent were Brahmins and 23 percent belonged to other upper castes. An earlier study done by Babu P. Ramesh of the VV Giri National Labour Institute, Noida, found that 96 percent of the 277 respondents from the bpo industry belonged to the forward castes.

In 2000, M. Vijayabaskar, a labour economist, conducted a study for the International Labour Organisation and interviewed 160 software engineers in Bangalore and Delhi. The study found that 80 percent of the respondents belonged to forward castes. Vijayabaskar, an assistant professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, argues that the scenario in the IT industry justifies the demand for reservations for other backward castes and dalits in central educational institutions like the IITs. “Leading IT companies recruit from top-notch engineering colleges like the IITs and the regional engineering colleges (REC),” he says.


The NIAS report sums up the situation and suggests what needs to be done: “The IT industry insists that it must be left free to recruit only the best workers if it is to maintain its competitive edge in the global market, and for this reason it has consistently opposed the idea of job reservations in the private sector. However, some companies and industry spokespersons have acknowledged that the private sector must bear some responsibility for social justice and for creating greater opportunities for a wider section of the population, and the idea of evolving a voluntary affirmative action programme has found favour in some quarters. But barring only one or two, till date most companies have not taken substantial steps in this direction. This is a central issue for debate and policy formulation, either by the State or as a voluntary initiative by the industry.”

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9:15 AM

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