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Pronouns, Hindutva Politics, and Inclusion in India’s Corporate Culture

Indianness for India’s corporate only rests on a toxic masculine male prejudice and hiding behind the disguise of resentment against the so-called Western influence, even better, colonisation. Queerness is an integral part of Indianness. By Indianness, if Bhavish Aggarwal refers to Hinduness, the Hindu religious texts are stories of queerness.

An Indian cis gender businessman carrying Hindutva's red flag and BJP's electoral sign — lotus
Illustration by Pius Fozan created with help from AI Image Creator

Bhavish Aggarwal asked the LinkedIn AI model, “Who is Bhavish Aggarwal?” The AI, in response, used they/their pronouns to describe him. Bhavish criticises the use of pronouns and labels it as a “pronoun illness” imported from the West. He complains that many “big city schools” in India are now teaching this concept to children. He observes the prevalence of this “pronoun illness” in various contexts, including CVs where applicants mention their pronouns. Bhavish points these practices to Western culture and influence, rather than considering them as part of Indian culture.

His outcry does not end with just one tweet. He makes another tweet and claims, “Most of us in India have no clue about politics of this pronouns illness. People do it because it’s become expected in our corporate culture, especially MNCs. Better to send this illness back where it came from. Our culture has always had respect for all. No need for new pronouns.”

The complexity of his tweets is overwhelming, with multiple layers demanding exploration. Therefore, I propose examining two distinct perspectives: Inclusion in Indian corporations, and businesses wielding Savarna-Hindutva politics for corporate gain.

But first, let’s get to know Bhavish Aggarwal.

The IIT Bombay website describes him as “the Co-Founder and CEO of Ola Cabs — one of the fastest-growing startups in India.” He received his education from India’s elite technology institution — the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. This institution, though esteemed, is accessible to only a fraction of Indian students and has been a hotspot for discrimination. Aggarwal also interned at Microsoft — another exclusive opportunity. Internships serve as a gateway to the job market, a pathway that the Congress and Rahul Gandhi are now promising to extend to all Indian graduates.

Bhavish Aggarwal represents a breed of Indian business leaders who are thriving under economic reforms. Liberalisation, globalisation, and privatisation opened doors. These policies, centred around the principles of a free market and competition, aimed to dismantle the exclusive control held by certain business oligarchs, break the government’s monopoly, and foster competition. They paved the way for entrepreneurs like Aggarwal to thrive — a role he proudly associates himself with, akin to a ‘pronoun’ symbolising his identity.

Bhavish laments that multinational companies (MNCs) have muddied India’s corporate culture by introducing the use of pronouns. In other words, MNCs have essentially integrated the concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for individuals who ‘deviate’ from heterosexual normality.

Bhavish is not entirely wrong.

Christina Dhanuja in a report by Scroll says, “Given a choice, most South Asian companies would not be doing this work (applying DEI in their companies). It only started because it was mandated by foreign parent companies.”

Queerness — A Western Influence or An Inherent Aspect of Indian Culture?

Our societies, particularly in India, rank and classify human dignity based on castes, skin colour, religions, and regions among many other injurious criteria. For instance, studies have shown disproportionate discrimination against Muslim women in recruitment. Setting aside considerations of sexuality, gender, and caste identity, it is evident that religion, particularly under the Modi regime, takes precedence over other biases within Indian corporations.

Therefore, when liberalisation and globalisation opened the doors to foreign investments, multinational corporations (MNCs) also brought with them the lessons learned from their past mistakes in social, racial, and gender discrimination. These lessons emphasised the importance of representation and respecting and dignifying all individuals in recruitment and workplaces, regardless of where they live, who they are, and where they come from. This is not to say that all Western companies and MNCs fully practice DEI. They have serious faultlines. Racial and ethnic discrimination is still widespread at workplaces in the West. But their investment in India’s corporations came with these conditions, albeit often in a superficial manner.

Bhavish categorises this as Western influence. Simply put, eradicating biases and discrimination in the workplace, including the acknowledgement of pronouns and queerness, is deemed by him as a facet of Western culture rather than an inherent aspect of Indian culture. In truth, pronouns and queerness challenge the privileged status quo and hegemony he represents.

Hindutva Politics as Weapons for Indian Corporate

Let us move to Savarna-Hindutva Politics as weapons for Indian Corporate. Bhavish Aggarwal’s attack on pronouns surprised many. Why would a businessman seemingly sabotage himself? The answer might lie in his new venture — an AI model called Krutim (meaning artificial) Voila! To launch his new business, he needed to make hullabaloo, some noise, position himself against established competitors, and make his competitors look bad.

So, what does he do? In line with the prevailing trend in Modi’s New India, Bhavish resorts to leveraging Hindutva's nationalistic narrative as a marketing strategy for his new AI model — hollow propaganda of ‘Make in India’, a horribly botched Modi Joomla (rhetoric). To promote Krutim, Bhavish conveniently invokes colonialism, a tactic commonly employed by businesses to deflect criticism and garner public sympathy.

This strategy is not new.

The Adani Group’s CFO, for example, dressed up in traditional attire, with the Indian national flag as a backdrop and issued a televised speech to dismiss the Hindenburg report on business malpractices. He conflated allegations against the Adani group with an attack on India itself and evoked the resilience of matrubhumi (motherland). There was everything in his speech that a Savarna-Hindutva politics embodies: casually attribute blame to colonialism and equate a private entity’s reputation with that of the entire nation. Similarly, another business, Koo, positioned itself as a competitor to Twitter by promoting its platform as the Indian alternative, endorsed by the BJP, offering little else in terms of unique features.

Bhavish Aggarwal’s dismissal of pronouns as an “illness” is what erasure and violence against queer individuals look like. He is perpetuating the stereotype that sexual orientation other than heterosexuality is an illness, unnatural. His apathy and gross ignorance should not surprise us but make us aware of India’s corporate world. Bhavish comes from a privileged Baniya class that has historically profited from the exploitation of the marginalised. His education, a luxury reserved for the elite few, has evidently failed to cultivate empathy or understanding. He represents India’s Corporate that tokenises diversity, and limits it to the shallow inclusion of women, that too primarily at the bottom of the hierarchy. He exposes a systemic rot that permeates through every level of India’s corporate.

Indianness for India’s corporate only rests on a toxic masculine male prejudice and hiding behind the disguise of resentment against the so-called Western influence, even better, colonisation. Queerness is an integral part of Indianness. By Indianness, if Bhavish Aggarwal refers to Hinduness, the Hindu religious texts are stories of queerness.

His reactionary stance against pronouns reflects a deep-seated fear of progress. To dismiss it as a “pronoun illness” is not just regressive but violent. Many “big city schools” embracing inclusivity are steps towards a more compassionate society, one that Bhavish Aggarwal seems determined to obstruct. If he wishes to compete with Western AI models, by all means, do so, but do not cloak it in the guise of culture and colonisation. Do not project your ignorance and apathy onto us Indians.


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