Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey landed in a raging controversy in India by posing for a photo with a sign alluding to the touchy subject of the country’s caste system.
While on a tour of one of Twitter’s fastest-growing markets, Dorsey met with a group of women activists and journalists, and was photographed alongside them holding a poster that read: “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy.” The photograph went viral and Dorsey got trolled on the very social network he built.
In India’s hierarchical Hindu caste system, Brahmins top the four caste groups and historically include teachers, priests and intellectuals. Patriarchy, meanwhile, isn’t limited to any single caste in India. Some furious tweeters said the act amounted to racism, while an apology by Twitter only riled up activists who oppose the caste system and patriarchy.
“As an Indian I am disappointed,” tweeted Mohandas Pai, technology investor and former chief financial officer of Infosys. He asked if India’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Rathore, would “take action for this hate mongering against an Indian community, spreading hatred?”
Hundreds of others joined in. “If you were in China would you hold up a poster asking Xi Jinping to hold free and fair elections?” asked journalist Chitra Subramaniam, co-founder of digital media outlet, News Minute. “To pose with hate speech when you say Twitter should be a space for healthy conversation shows how hollow those words are,” tweeted Advaita Kala, an author.
In an attempt to control the damage, Twitter lost no time in issuing a public apology, saying neither Twitter nor Dorsey endorsed the message that the oppression of the Hindu caste system must be dismantled alongside male dominance.
“Recently we hosted a closed door discussion with a group of women journalists and change makers from India to better understand their experience using Twitter. One of the participants, a Dalit activist, shared her personal experiences and gifted a poster to Jack,” Twitter India explained on its official account.
Instead of assuaging feelings, the response brought on a further avalanche of tweets from activists who felt Twitter shouldn’t have stifled marginalized voices. Some called it a “cop out” by Twitter.
Caste equations are a delicate balance in many parts of the country, particularly in rural India. Caste-based violence is not uncommon and often incited by political groups who pit the so-called upper castes against Dalits, traditionally ostracized and occupying the lowest rung in the hierarchy. The caste system has been officially abolished but can still dictate what kind of work rural Indians do or which part of the village they live in. To this day, caste is a prominent issue when Indians marry.
Twitter has about 35 million monthly active users in India. Leading Indian politicians, sports stars and Bollywood celebrities have millions of followers on the platform. As the smartphone user base is set to more than double to 650 million by 2022, according to a report by consultancy EY, these new users are flooding social networks such as Twitter.