Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has kicked up a social media storm in India after a picture of him with a placard saying “smash Brahminical patriarchy” went viral in one of the company’s fastest-growing markets.
The reference to Brahmins, the traditional priestly class who sit atop the rigid caste hierarchy, outraged some Hindus when the photograph was posted online on Sunday evening.
A journalist, who was part of a group of women journalists, activists, writers whom Dorsey met during a visit to India last week, posted the picture on Twitter.
During Twitter CEO @jack's visit here, he & Twitter's Legal head @vijaya took part in a round table with some of us women journalists, activists, writers & @TwitterIndia's @amritat to discuss the Twitter experience in India. A very insightful, no-words-minced conversation 😊 pic.twitter.com/LqtJQEABgV
— Anna MM Vetticad (@annavetticad) November 18, 2018
Several prominent Indians, including TV Mohandas Pai, a former finance chief of software firm Infosys, accused Dorsey of “hate mongering” against Brahmins.
“Tomorrow if @jack is given a poster with anti-Semitic messages in a meeting, will his team allow him to hold it up?,” Pai tweeted. “Why is that any different? Inciting hate against any community is wrong.”
Another user, tweeting under the name Prassant DeshPehle (country first), wrote: “Shame on you @jack. Hate against any community or group should be condemned. Spewing hate on one to please the other isn’t right.”
But others praised the Twitter chief for touching on the plight of marginalised, low-caste Dalit communities and women in India.
“Dalit lynching and oppression, incidents of which we read about every other day, do not cause as much Twitter outrage as Jack Dorsey holding up a placard saying ‘End Brahmin Patriarchy’,” wrote user Ranjona Banerji.
South Asian historian Audrey Truschke said: “My Twitter feed is full of elite men hyperventilating about Twitter CEO @jack holding a sign that calls out sex-based & caste-based discrimination in India.”
“Caste and sexism are real and virulent in modern India. If you want to be angry about something, let it be that reality,” she added.
Caste politics can explode into violence in India, where a centuries-old hierarchy has divided Hindus into classes starting with Brahmins and placing Dalits – the former “untouchables” – at the bottom of the social hierarchy in Hinduism.
Although the practice has been officially abolished, it still prevails and determines where people live, who they marry and what type of work they do.
Twitter India said the poster was handed to Dorsey by a Dalit activist when it hosted a closed-door discussion with a group of women to know more about their experience using the micro-blogging platform.
It added the poster was a “tangible reflection of our company’s efforts to see, hear, and understand all sides of important public conversations that happen on our service around the world”.
But late on Monday, Vijaya Gadde, legal, policy and trust and safety lead at Twitter, who accompanied Dorsey to India, apologised.
“I’m very sorry for this. It’s not reflective of our views. We took a private photo with a gift just given to us – we should have been more thoughtful,” she said in a tweet.
“Twitter strives to be an impartial platform for all. We failed to do that here & we must do better to serve our customers in India.”
Twitter, whose monthly active users globally averaged 326 million in the July-September quarter, does not disclose the number of its users in India but its executives have said that the country was one of its fastest-growing user bases.
Its use is only expected to grow in India in the coming months as political parties in the country of 1.3 billion try to expand their reach to voters ahead of a general election due by May.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with 44.4 million followers, is one of its biggest supporters.
“I enjoy being on this medium, where I’ve made great friends and see everyday the creativity of people,” Modi tweeted last week after meeting Dorsey in New Delhi.
Feminists use the term #BrahminicalPatriarchy to talk about how #brahminical norms determine #caste & #gender relations. It is fact not violence to name how one caste through scripture has held hegemonic power for centuries. #SmashBrahminicalPatriarchy @twitterindia @jack pic.twitter.com/SYQgLvnqBx
— Dalit Diva (@dalitdiva) November 20, 2018