Tech Company CEO Faces Backlash Over Participation in Hindu Nationalist Event in India

Zoho Corp. headquarters in Chennai, India. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Facing online backlash, the California-based CEO of an enterprise software company has doubled down on his plans to attend an event hosted by a controversial Hindu nationalist group in India.

Zoho Corp. CEO Sridhar Vembu is listed as the “chief guest” for a Feb. 2 event in Chennai, India, by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an influential right-wing paramilitary organization.

“I don’t decide my views based on Twitter attacks,” Vembu, who was born in India, posted on Twitter in response to the growing backlash. “If you dislike which events I attend, please do what your conscience dictates and I will do what mine dictates. We earn our daily bread due to our work and we will continue to do quality work. I won’t be responding to attacks.”

Vembu’s company offers a popular cloud-based suite of enterprise software, including tools for spreadsheet, word processing and customer relationship management.

The controversy over his decision to attend the event comes amid widespread protests over an Indian citizenship bill that has been celebrated by the RSS but which critics say singles out Muslims for exclusion.

Vembu is scheduled to share the stage with Anirudha Deshpande, the chief of All India Public Outreach at RSS. The RSS, a volunteer group, is widely recognized as the ideological forefather of several Hindu nationalist, or Hindutva, organizations, as well as of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.

As the hashtag #BoycottZoho trended on Twitter in India, dozens of social media users, including Indian artist Irena Akbar, Indian technology journalist Abhishek Baxi and Australian entrepreneur Aamir Qutub, posted about switching away from the service as a result of Vembu’s participation in the event.

South Asian human rights advocacy group Equality Labs also urged customers to boycott Zoho unless the company issues a public apology.

“If he did not want to have politics enter into the questioning of his brand he should not have shared a platform with fascists,” Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a Los Angeles-based Dalit activist and executive director of Equality Labs, told Religion News Service.

“India’s tech scene is notorious for caste, gender and religious bias,” she said. “This has resulted in many IT professionals who think they can openly consort with fascists without professional consequences to themselves and their companies.”

The RSS has vocally backed the country’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, calling the legislation to fast-track Indian citizenship to non-Muslim religious minorities from neighboring countries a “courageous step.”

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Source: Religion News Service