On 16th July 2023, Sundar Iyer, the main defendant in the Cisco Caste case, shared his experience at the Caste Con’23 on the legal battle that he fought because of a bogus case of caste discrimination filed against him and his colleague Ramana Kompella by a person identified as ‘John Doe’. The complainant claimed that Iyer and Kompella discriminated against Doe, a Dalit, at Cisco’s United Stated based office.
At the beginning of his speech, Iyer said the last few years were difficult because of the litigation. Because of legal purposes, he read from a pre-written script. Iyer, an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley for over 20 years, has a few startups under his sleeve. Most of these startups were related to the tech sector. On the job front, he works as the primary manager at Cisco, where he was sued over the claims of caste discrimination by the California Civil Rights Department, aka CRD.
Iyer pointed out that he would not be speaking on the pros and cons of SB403, the infamous anti-Hindu bill tabled in California to target Indians living in the United States. His primary focus remains on the personal experience in the Cisco caste case.
Iyer’s ordeal of the Cisco caste case
The following section is based on his readout of the script at Caste Con’23.
Iyer grew up in India, and India gave him two essential things vital for growth: opportunity and adversity. His caste privilege was that he took a loan of USD 40,000 (USD 75,000 at the current time) to study in America. CRD sued his colleague Ramana Kompella and him in June 2020.
It was claimed that Iyer and Kompella discriminated against and harassed CRD’s anonymous client John Doe because of his case. John Doe was Iyer’s classmate in his college days in India. Iyer paid Doe several million dollars in compensation to join his startup at Cisco Systems. He recruited him and other employees by sacrificing his Cisco Equity.
John Doe self-identifies as a Dalit which, according to CRD, ‘is the lowest caste in Hinduism and India’. CRD defined caste as a strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy. They submitted several articles, declarations, and book chapters that equate caste with South Asia and Hinduism.
Coming to the allegations against him in the case, Iyer said he was accused of the fact that he did not award John Doe the head of engineering position in his startup because he was a Dalit. Interestingly, according to the Court documents Cisco submitted, it was clear that Doe never requested or even wanted that position. Still, Iyer was accused of bigotry against Dalits.
Contrary to CRD’s claims, Iyer said not only did he hire Doe allegedly even if he knew his caste but also offered all of the top three leadership positions at his Cisco startup, including the position of the head of engineering that Doe claimed discrimination against to another Dalit, the same lowest caste as Doe.
Iyer said the person offered the position was the best person he could hire. Two of the positions offered to him were made before the case was filed against him. Still, CRD sued him and his colleague for Dalit discrimination. CRD also accused him of salary discrimination.
To put the matter in context, Iyer pointed out that he did not take any equity in the startup and compensated Doe with several millions of dollars. Instead of considering his position, CRD accused him of salary discrimination because he did not give Doe a few extra thousand dollars in a single salary increment cycle in October 2016.
CRD named him and his colleague Kompella in the press on the same day they filed the lawsuit before their Fair Day in court. CRD collaborated with caste activists who wrote several articles tarnishing their reputations. Even today, both continue to receive activist propaganda and unadulterated hate. Some of these activists even targeted them for their last names, calling their previous names and several other Hindu last names violent casters.
Calling themselves the best and only example of America’s caste litigation, Iyer said that despite giving top leadership positions to a Dalit, he was accused of caste discrimination. Iyer said during the trial, he provided CRD public data that showed he was not a practising religious person. Yet, CRD claimed he adhered to Hindu religious practices. Iyer said the CRD is supposed to protect civil rights, but in his case, they deliberately violated his freedom of religious rights.
Despite being aware that he does not practice caste or even wear the scared threat, he was sued for caste discrimination. Iyer pointed out that he had written several short stories against caste over the years. Still, CRD went ahead and assigned him to a Hindu Brahmin caste. Iyer said it was ironic that civil rights organisations deliberately assigned him a caste based on his last name alone.
While CRD claimed caste is a deeply private matter, they broadcasted his caste to the world. Next, they claimed that caste leads to violence. Furthermore, they colluded with the activists who made several violent stereotypes of Brahmins in upper caste Indians. On record, Equality Labs, CRD’s main activist collaborator, said that Nazis in Germany and Europe are upper-caste Indians.
He added that 30th June 2020 would be remembered as the day California civil rights sued them as the first instance of state-sponsored casteism. The CRD investigated the Cisco case for many years despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. After a mere 15-minute interview that he was given, they sued him for caste discrimination which was a violation of his due process rights.
CRD did not stop there. They also sued Iyer for harassment, which is a serious crime. One has to call someone the n-word multiple times at a place of work to be sued for harassment. It is not based on business actions but on personal behaviour. In the eight years since Iyer hired Doe, CRD did not find a single bad statement Iyer made against Doe.
Ramana was also sued for caste-based harassment. His most grievous crime was that he asked John Doe to file weekly status reports. His directions to Doe came from the White American manager whom Iyer described as a brilliant man and a legend in Silicon Valley. “Isn’t that racist stereotyping accusing Ramana of harassment for simply following his manager’s request?” Iyer questioned.
CRD named and shamed them simply for doing their job. CRD did not stop there. They targeted not only Iyer and Ramana but also 50+ Cisco co-workers. His team was ethnically vibrant and diverse, with men and women from various races and ethnicities from all over the globe. CRD, on the other hand, painted them as “entirely upper caste Indians”. They accused 50+ co-workers of Iyer without any due process of importing bigotry and caste system from India to America. CRD stripped them of their humanity and claimed a hostile Dalit environment but did not bother to interview the senior person who was a Dalit himself in his group.
The person who had the topmost position in his group was erased of his Dalit identity as it did not fit in their narrative. “We were not humans to them. We were just pawns in their racist narrative,” Iyer said.
CRD, in association with Equality Labs, then unleashed a flood of hate against all Hindu Americans. They repeatedly racially profiled and violently stereotyped Hindu Americans. They even accused them of raping and assaulting 25 per cent of all Dalits in America without a shred of evidence. The judge rejected the insane targeting of Hindu Americans. He also rejected each and every claim that was based on the unscientific Equality Labs report that was presented as anecdotal and not evidence.
They made statements like ‘life is a living hell working under Indian managers’. They accused Indian Americans of spitting on Dalits simply because of knowledge of their caste and accused upper-caste Indians of boasting their biological superiority on purely anecdotal data. CRD even claimed that the increase in casteism in America was due to the election of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Interestingly, CRD suppressed PM Modi’s caste background. PM Modi belongs to OBC or Other Backward Class, for those who are unaware. Despite the fact, PM Modi is not an upper-caste Hindu, his election as Prime Minister was used as a reason for so-called caste discrimination in the US.
In January 2021, Hindu American Foundation sued the CRD for violating the American Consitution Multiple Times. In September 2021, the deferral equal employment opportunity commission (a federal body) accused CRD of several ethics violations. In April 2022, Governor Newsom fired CRD’s lead prosecutor, who was also the lead prosecutor in the Cisco case. In October 2022, Castegate.org, a volunteer-led organisation, documented deeply disturbing and continuing unethical actions in the Cisco case. In January 2023, Iyer and others filed a motion to Sanction the CRD prosecutors for bringing a case that had no legal or factual basis. After their motion, CRD withdrew the case against him and Ramana but continued to sue Cisco.
In April 2023, California Policy Center, a Southern California-based Think Tank, released a damning white paper accusing the CRD of a pattern of corrupt behaviour against several Californian companies, including Tesla and Ride Games. In July 2023, California for Justice, a volunteer-driven engineer organisation, accused the CRD of targeting Indian Americans and appealed to Governor Newsom to intervene urgently.
Iyer said that over the past years, he had given executive roles to people from British, Australian, Pakistani, Syrian American, Bangladeshi, Taiwanese, Indian ethnicities and, of course, fellow Americans because they were best for the jobs.
Ultimately, he metaphorically talked to Dr BR Ambedkar and said, “Dear Dr Ambedkar, I hadn’t realised that I would have to talk to you. I am deeply sorry; at Cisco, I first gave my top leadership positions to a brilliant, hard-working, developed candidate. Why? Because he was the best person that I could hire. The CRD won’t tell the judge that the activists who claimed to speak for the Dalits in America won’t tell you that the scholars were supposed to uphold academic integrity. [They] will not tell you that, and the press will not report that it does not fit the narrative. But dear Dr Ambedkar, I thought you should know the truth that we’re not expected to prove our innocence in America. It is the job of the state to prove guilt. The CRD withdrew their case against Ramana and me with prejudice. In layman’s language, they agreed never to sue Ramana and me on this matter. However, earlier this year, our local Fremont Senator [Aisha] Wahab introduced SB-403 to prevent discrimination based on someone’s perceived caste. In her speech, she invoked the Cisco case and presumed my 50-plus co-workers guilty. Many of them are her own constituents. Like the CRD, she perceived us as an oppressed upper cause before our Fair Day in court. I thank you, Senator Wahab.”
Speaking to Dev Discourse, Iyer said during Caste Con’23, “I gave away the entirety, that is, 100 per cent of my CEO equity in my Cisco startup to all of my employees, including to John Doe (the anonymous Dalit plaintiff). I hired and compensated Doe (my classmate), with several millions of dollars. Despite that, the CRD (Civil Rights Department) accused me (on behalf of Doe), of salary discrimination, for not giving Doe a raise of a few thousand dollars in October 2016.”
Who is John Doe?
The CRD had decided to keep the accuser anonymous (John Doe) till the case was over because the accuser feared for his safety. However, with the Cisco case against Iyer falling apart and the arbitration with Cisco also falling flat, OpIndia went through the documents collected and published by castegate.org. In one of the CRD (previously DEFH) documents, several details helped us narrow down the possible identification of the person. By using those documents and publically available information on professional websites like LinkedIn, IIT Bombay, ContactOut, CrunchBase, RocketReach and USPTO, we tried to establish the identity.
The first aspect of the case we noticed was that Iyer and John Doe went to IIT Bombay. John Doe also worked at Iyer’s startup in Cisco. Iyer’s startup at Cisco was called Candid Systems. We noticed several patents filed by Sunder Iyer in collaboration with other people from Cisco, probably from his startup.
Out of these names, we checked all names to see if any of them were Indians. One name that stood out was Chetan Narsude, a Principal Engineer at Cisco Narsude’s ContactOut profile, which suggested he was co-founder of Candid, an Inseime Alpha company. Insieme was the incubator of Iyer’s startup named Candid Systems. Patents filed by Cisco that have both Iyer’s and Narsude’s names can be seen here, here, here and here.
According to Sunder Iyer’s LinkedIn and ContactOut profile, he attended IIT Bombay between 1994 and 1998.
Chetan Narsude’s RocketReach profile suggested he also went to IIT Bombay between 1994 to 1998.
As we established they attended IIT Bombay simultaneously, we tried to establish a link between them at the college. During our research, we found a page of BTech projects guided by retired professor Srikantam Sai Surya Prakasa Rao (SSSP Rao). On that page, it was mentioned that he guided projects of Sunday Iyer (Internet Security Management Protocols) and Chetan Narsude (Digital Signal Processor in Radar Signal Processing).
OpIndia has written to both Iyer and Narsude for their comments about their identity, role and the case falling flat. We have not received a response yet. When and if we do receive a response, we will update this report with it.
The case against Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella
On 10th April 2023, CRD voluntarily dismissed its infamous ‘caste discrimination’ case against two Indian-origin Cisco Systems Inc. engineers in the Superior Court. The case was filed against Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella in June 2020 for supposedly discriminating against a ‘self-identifying Dalit’. CRD, an agency of the California state government, had allegedly made false claims about Hinduism, besides depicting people of Indian origin as ‘xenophobic.’
This was despite Iyer recruiting the alleged victim at a generous package with millions in stock grants. The Indian-origin engineer had also hired at least one more ‘self-identifying Dalit’ who held a leadership position at Cisco Sytems Inc.
Notably, California Civil Rights Department was well aware of the diversity in the company and the particular Division where Sundar Iyer worked. It also came to light that the ‘self-identifying Dalit’ had been working in the American company for 8 long years at the time of filing the complaint. CRD could not find any evidence against the two Cisco Systems engineers that constituted harassment.
Anti-Hindu bill SB403
SB403 is a so-called anti-caste discrimination legislation that is making its way through the Californian state legislature. California Senator Aisha Wahab tabled the bill. The dubious organisation Equality Labs is one of the bill’s biggest supporters. The bill was completely based on the Cisco caste case. Although the case fell flat, the SB403 bill is on its way to becoming law in California state of the US.
Death of Hindu activist Milind Makwana
Milind Makwana, who belonged to a marginalised community, was a HSS sevak and APNADB co-founder. He was one of the vocal Hindus against SB403. On 19th July, he went to attend a Cupertino City Council meeting where residents requested to pass a resolution against SB403. He was a humble, earnest and kind human being who worked extensively for society. Unfortunately, soon after the council meeting, Makwana collapsed and died at 11 PM Pacific time.
Just before his death, Makwana made a 1-minute eloquent speech in favour of a resolution against SB403. He said, “My name is Milind I am a Cupertino School district taxpayer. I’m from a marginalized community and I am a proud Hindu. So whoever is claiming here to represent us but ignoring Hindus is talking about us without us. So what I would like to say is looks can be deceiving, just like having a disco ball on a Monday morning. When you look at the proposed resolution SB403 and peel off the shiny exterior, you will find a costume party of hidden racial discrimination and Hinduphobia for Asian Indians. I urge the city council to vote no on SB403 and dance our way to fairness.“
Pandit Satish K Sharma, a British Hindu leader, who also attended Caste Con’23 as the keynote speaker, expressed his concerns over the continuous attack on Hindus. He wrote a heartfelt note on Twitter after learning about the death of Makwana.
He wrote, “The level of victimisation of Hindus, by those supporting this unnecessary bill at all levels has been brought home by this tragedy. California’s Hindus have been on the receiving end of outright contempt, dehumanisation and direct oppression, under the guise of anti-discrimination legislation.
Milind Makwana should have been at home with his young family, not having to defend his Constitutional rights, not having to travel around the country to protect his children’s future, not having to prove his innocence when those who hate Hindus have failed to prove any guilt.
I was invited to the valley as a Keynote speaker at the #CasteCon Conference, to provide historical evidence of Caste as a colonial tool, sculpted by an oppressive colonial occupier intent on denying Hindus freedoms and rights.
I am devastated to witness the contempt with which Hindus have been treated in today’s California, simply because they are Hindus and totally unjustifiably ‘perceived’ to be oppressors. It’s clear from the manner and circumstances of the tragic passing of Milind Makwana, just after delivering the following speech, a devout Hindu Dalit, as to who the oppressors are and who is being oppressed. May Milind’s family be given the strength and support to navigate this time of trial. Aum Namaha Shivaya.“