On (My) Caste

Aug 29, 2023

Allow me to introduce you to one of the largest population groups in India, as recognized by the constitution of India: Other Backward Classes (OBC Category). OBCs are estimated to comprise 40-45% of India's population, therefore, about 500 million people belong to OBC category. In other words, 1 in 16 people in the world belongs to the OBC category. As you might have already guessed, OBCs have historically been socio-economically disadvantaged. The wiki page is a good start.

The purpose of this post is three-fold: (1) re-claim my identity in its entirety, (2) inform the broader public, and (3) reach out to someone searching for an OBC who "made" it in academia.

It is, perhaps, appropriate to address the elephant in the room: I belong to OBC Category. Phew, this was not as hard as I anticipated. Typically, one's surname (last name) is a giveaway and most Indians can reasonably identify someone's caste based on the last name. Fortunately, my last name is rather uncommon and in such scenarios one often gets benefit of the doubt, and therefore, very few people have been aware of my caste. I had begun to mention references to my caste in Facebook/Twitter threads in the past two years. I was, however, not ready to publicly declare it until I received tenure as it seemed too risky.

An uninitiated might be forgiven for not realizing that caste-based discrimination is rampant in India (yes, even among faculty members at IITs; one such example), and perhaps worse among Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). Therefore, there was always fear of what would a potential letter writer or someone on tenure evaluation committee think of me if they knew I belonged to OBC. It was the same fear that stopped me from mentioning anything about my caste in any of DEI statements that I prepared for the job search or tenure: I had to pretend not to know what it feels to be under-represented.

As a professor at a public university, I feel I ought to inform broader public about the lack of representation of OBCs. I think I can summarize the lack of representation with the help of a claim that I believe is true: There are at most five tenure-track faculty who belong to OBC category among all the faculty members in North America's "top" 50 CS departments. Any reasonable process to pick 50 CS departments should suffice. I will be, of course, overjoyed to be corrected.

You might ask: What evidence do I have to support my claim?

To this end, in early 2023, I sought to determine the distribution of CS faculty according to their castes at the five of the most prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IITs). I relied on Right to Information (RTI) queries to individual IITs to gather data. The result are either shocking or not surprising, depending on how much one knows about the caste system. Well, without further ado, here are the responses from each of the IITs:

Here is the summary: There is exactly one out of 180 CS faculty members across five IITs who belongs to OBC category.

While the past and present draw a bleak picture concerning the representations of OBCs, I remain wishful about the future, but there is work to be done. One of the reasons I wanted to write this post was because I remember craving a role model belonging to the OBC category. Therefore, if someone from under-represented and socially disadvantaged groups is contemplating a Ph.D. or faculty position, I want them to know: Yes, "we" can succeed. Please reach out to me if I can help, and let me assure you I would be happier than you if I were to hear from you. It's been a lonely road for far too long.


  1. (Sep 7) The earlier version of the article closed off with an invitation to "an OBC person," which, contrary to my intentions, gave the impression of being exclusionary; hence the revised wording. That said, I am also mindful that there are many communities (like SC/ST in India) whose members have to deal with significantly more societal barriers than a typical OBC person like me, and I do not want to appear to ignore this wide gap. I can only offer my best advice and help as a role model, notwithstanding such gaps.

  2. (Aug 30) Acknowledgements: Several close friends and family members helped with the initial drafts of this article. Thanks to following for pointing out typos: Laurent Lyaudet and Graham Stratford. Please email me if you notice any typos or grammatical errors.