Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Cornell University
Caste Of Computing: Everyday Practices Of Castelessness And Risks Of Dalit Subjectivity In India

This project explores how the universality of absence of caste is encoded in everyday computing by upper caste, especially women, engineers and how this is challenged by experiences and histories of Dalit (formerly “untouchable” under the caste system) subjectivity. The hyper-visible categories of Scheduled Castes and Tribes in India has rendered upper castes as casteless, modern subjects while associating any assertion of difference by the former with identity politics. Using my experience as a Dalit software engineer and training as a scholar of feminist technology studies, I ask – 1.) how and why might framing gender as the key relation of historical discrimination in computing serve as a critical site to study erasure of caste in collective meaning and practice? and 2.) where, when and how is the absence or silence of caste relations negotiated and challenged by Dalit engineers and what kinds of risks does it pose? I situate castelessness of upper caste engineers at the center of cultures of computing through an ethnographic study of everyday practices and discourses of an organization working for women in technology in India as a participant observer over the period of a year in urban Bangalore. Simultaneously, I also conduct oral history interviews with Dalit engineers in India and US through networks of anti-caste communities to understand their experience and negotiations of caste relations in the field of computing. By bringing both bodies of evidence in conversation with each other, I argue that neoliberal efforts of democratizing technologies through programs of diversity, equity and inclusion, particularly its focus on gender as a relation of historical discrimination in technology, constitute a crucial but overlooked mode of understanding how the relationship between techno-capitalism and Brahmanical social order is forged and disputed in India.