US Imperialism


WSF In India






Gujarat Pogrom






Join Mailing List

Contact Us


Michigan Prof Caste Off By Fellow Desi

By Chidanand Rajghatta

Times Of India
27 June, 2003

India's caste custom has reared its head in the groves of American academe. In a rather dubious first, an Indian professor at a US university has sued a fellow Indian don, citing personal caste discrimination among reasons for a stifled career.

Pinaki Mazumder, a professor in the electrical engineering and
computer science department at the University of Michigan in Ann
Arbor, says Promod Khargonekar, a former chairman of the department, discriminated against him on grounds of caste, affecting his performance reviews and pay raises.

Mazumder says he is a Kayastha, and Khargonekar is a Brahmin.

The lawsuit, which also involved the university, seeks unspecified
damages. It alleges the university did nothing to stop the bias,
trivialised his concerns and retaliated against him when he

The lawsuit has become a sideshow at the university, which is in the news these days because of a landmark US Supreme Court decision earlier this week upholding race as a factor in admissions, a ruling that has widespread impact across the country.

Coming on the heels of a scathing article in last month's National
Geographic on India's continuing caste woes, the case has dismayed Indian students and the community, one of whom tipped off this newspaper. The lawsuit has attracted local media coverage, including on TV stations and in the Ann Arbor News.

In a telephone interview, Mazumder said there was more to the case than just caste, although the American media probably found it more newsworthy. Indian professors in US universities are routinely denied tenure and promotions on various grounds including race and his lawsuit dealt with these issues too, he maintained.

No accurate count of Indian teachers in US universities is available, but they are estimated to be in the tens of thousands, and second only to teachers of American nationality in terms of numbers.

Typically, they have a sterling reputation and are regarded highly.
There have only been a few discrimination lawsuits, but never one on ground of caste against a fellow Indian.

Mazumder says Khargonekar berated his teaching methods and also allowed a post-doctoral research assistant, who is also a Brahmin, to copy his ``intellectual property''.

Khargonekar, who has moved on to become the dean of engineering at the University of Florida, could not be reached for comment.

Neil Lao, a spokesman of the UMich engineering department declined to speak on the case citing administrative reasons. But the Ann Arbor News quoted university spokesperson Julie Peterson as saying Mazumder has been treated fairly, and ``it is absurd to think the college would somehow discriminate on the basis of caste. We would not even be aware of, much less take notice of, an individual's caste''.