Prof Caste Off By Fellow Desi
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
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,
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