Saturday, August 8, 2020

The State of California v/s Cisco: America’s first lawsuit against the Caste System

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Nishitha Mandava

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The State of California v/s Cisco: America’s first lawsuit against the Caste System


Global Views 360

Publication Date

August 8, 2020


Cisco Headquarter, California, USA | Source: Travis Wise via Flickr

On June 30th, 2020, the U.S state of California filed a lawsuit against the tech company Cisco for discriminating against an Indian-American engineer based on caste. It was filed against the company's San Jose headquarters campus, which has a workforce predominantly of South-Asian origin.

The lawsuit was filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for discriminating against the employee on the grounds that he belonged to the population that was once known as the ‘untouchables’ under the caste system of India.

The Indian American employee who preferred to stay anonymous named two employees Sunder Iyer and Ramana Kompella, for harassing and discriminating against him based on caste. The two named employees work as supervisors at Cisco and belong to a high-caste.

The suit says that the engineer was allegedly forced to accept the caste hierarchy in the workplace, and when he refused to do so, they isolated him, decreased his role in the team, and reduced his salary. They even retaliated against him and assigned him to work with deadlines that were impossible to meet.

It is alleged that Iyer told other workers that the employee was Dalit and gained entry into the Indian Institute of Technology through affirmative action. The lawsuit further went on to accuse Cisco of failing to take ‘corrective action’ despite multiple investigations.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing cited this as the civil rights violation of the engineer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, sex, colour, religion and national origin.

Though the law doesn’t explicitly state discrimination with regards to caste, it does prohibit workplace discrimination that is based on arbitrary factors. Currently, the case is still pending, and Cisco says it intends to ‘defend itself’.

Though this is America’s first case against the caste system, it doesn’t mean it is a new problem, and neither is caste-based discrimination an exclusive issue of Cisco. This issue has been widely prevalent across numerous workspaces in America.

“This is the first civil rights case in the United States where a government entity is suing an American company for failing to protect caste-oppressed employees and their negligence leading to a hostile workplace,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director of Equality Labs.

Equality Labs is an organisation that seeks to fight against the issue of caste in the United States. The organisation’s survey in 2016 titled ‘Caste in the United States’ found that 67% of Dalits living in America have faced verbal or physical assault at their workspace based on their caste.

The same survey also reports that one in three Dalit students suffered some form of caste-based educational discrimination in the States. Dalit women too face their own set of challenges in workspaces. In addition to facing slurs that are manifested in caste, they are often subjected to sexual harassment in connection to the prevalence of caste-based sexual violence in India.

The lawsuit against workplace discrimination at Cisco has made several Dalit employees across America to come forward and speak up about the harassment they have been subjected to due to their caste. This is why California’s case is especially significant as it sheds light onto the sheer scale of this caste-based discrimination at both the work and educational spaces.

It is a landmark case as it shows that there is a need to include caste in the protected category and enable more such civil rights litigations. It formally recognises the existence of caste elements at work and educational spaces that form the breeding grounds for systematic discrimination, bullying and ostracisation to thrive.

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January 18, 2021 2:21 PM

The Toxicity in Video Games and Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077, the most awaited video game was released on consoles and PC on 10th of December, 2020. The game went under 10 years of build-up and had kept gamers waiting for over 8 years. Cyberpunk 2077 is inspired by a cult-favourite tabletop roleplaying game. The video game was designed by well-known Polish studio, CD Projekt Red. Cyberpunk was the studio’s first big console game since The Witcher 3: Wild hunt which was an extraordinarily triumphant game that won numerous awards after its launch in 2015.

The popular video game, when released, faced backlash from the gaming community and non-gamers for several reasons. To many observers and gamers, Cyberpunk 2077 even proved to be an absolute failure. Several gamers called out the game developers for the promotion of sexiest ideologies and transphobia. However, the reviews weren’t well received by the fans. Cyberpunk 2077 fans responded with unacceptable abuses, harrasing and hateful messages and even rape and death threats.

Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 released ample previews, trailers, motion pictures and marketing material. Aside from this, the appearence of popular Canadian actor, Keanu Reeves as a character in the game carved the expectations of gamers and promised a sexy and kinky world of futuristic and revolutionary action. CD Projekt Red, one of Europe’s most successful video game company announced Cyberpunk 2077 project in 2012 and released the first trailer in 2013

The game is set in an alternate timeline in the city of California. The streets in the game are owned by tyrannical corporations. Everyone in the game modifies their body with illegal technology. Much of the state in the video game setting is said to be suffering from the impacts of a major nuclear attack which happened years ago. Every player gets to be a cyber-enhanced human who has to fight against physical and psychological threats to their survival. The game character of Keanu Reeves comes in as your sidekick.

In 2018, the developers insisted and had assured the gamers that Cyberpunk 2077 would not include in game purchases. CD Projekt Red did not want to lock any content behind a paywall. The studio was also insistent that the game would come out only when it was completely “ready”. They announced that the release would take place in April 2020 but it was delayed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other quality problems that the game was facing. When it was finally released in December 2020, gamers expected their experience of the game to be “worth the wait”. However, the video game wasn’t well revived by all. In spite of several months of work that went into making and developing the game, the game was launched with several technical issues. Players on both PC and consoles were having terrible experiences. As a result of multiple glitches and technical problems, the characters’ faces were obscured and the game would reset randomly. Some of the environments or areas of the game map was unappealing. The game even caused consoles to crash repeatedly and sometimes sacrificed players’ progress. One glitch led to characters’ breasts and penises being exposed. The characters’ genitals would poke out of their clothes. CD Projeckt Red offered refunds to players who were disappointed with the product. In fact, they updated a self-review discouraging gamers from playing the game on console until the game was fixed and improved.

Cyberpunk 2077 was roundly criticized by reviewers, game designers, industry insiders and other gamers across the gaming community. The wait and hype for the game had already created a fanbase which turned toxic by harassing reviewers who criticised the game.

There is another reason why the game wasn’t well received. Cyberpunk 2077 transphobia was apparent in the game contradicting the fact that the developers had claimed that the game was ahead of its time. The game has an incredibly detailed character creation menu. The players can control several aspects of their character’s appearance including the shapes and size of the genitals. The game even allows players to decline the option of including genitals to their characters. However, this isn’t the problem and is in fact appreciable. The idea of not determining gender by the character’s genitals in fact made many trans players happy. But this soon turned into disbelief and disappointment. The gamers realised that the game actually assigned the gender to the characters not based on their genitals but rather by the voice. Characters with higher-pitched voices were identified as females and characters with deep-voiced characters were assigned male pronouns. This purports the toxic idea that people’s gender can be determined by certain traits. A non-sexist video game would determine the gender of a player’s character based on an independent choice made by players themselves. This is uninfluenced by other physical traits or qualities.

Several reviewers called out Cyberpunk 2077 for promoting sexist ideologies. Unfortunately, toxic fans harassed the reviewers. “You just KNOW when you're going to get harassed. If the game with all the hype has anything wrong with it, and you're honest about that, or even just want to provide any context outside of ‘it's fun’, you're going to get harassed. It's a given.” These were precisely what Susan Arendt, a podcast host quoted. She even second guessed herself whether sharing her true opinions was worth the hateful, threatening and harassing messages that she received.

Controversial Tweet by Cyberpunk 2077 Twitter Handle

In the early days of arcade, gaming was a family activity. The popular male dominance and stereotype that only boys or men are good at video games were perpetuated in the past three decades. We observe this change due to sexualisation of video games. Today, most video games aren’t family friendly as they include explicit and sexual content. This, in fact, is a marketing tactic used by developers to target the male population. In 2018, a Cyberpunk 2077 fan who was awaiting the game at that point of time tweeted that the user wanted to see more from the “guys” at CDPR. In response to this tweet, CD Projekt Red tweeted, “Did you just assume their gender?!”. On the look of it, the tweet seems innocent but it is a joke at the expense of the trans community. After receiving backlash to the tweet, CDPR took it down and issued an apology staying sorry to “all those offended”. The apology seems like another targeted mockery and CDPR did no right by not taking responsibility for its actions.

Not only is Cyberpunk2077 transphobic and sexist, it is non user friendly as well. The game has several epilepsy triggers without any warnings about it. There are several instances and situations in the game where the effects and the graphics are brighter, louder and flashing. This is a general trigger for seizures. Liana Rupert, a player of Cyberpunk 2077 suffered a major seizure and at several moments felt that she was close to another one. After bringing this to the notice of CD Projekt Red, the company agreed to add trigger warnings wherever necessary.  

The gaming industry has definitely taken a few steps forward in terms of inclusivity of all genders but has also taken a few steps backward. While all genders are welcome, they still face harassment and judgement for simply existing in the community and need a lot more improvement.

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