Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has found himself in hot water on his first trip to India, after posing with a poster many Indians found offensive.
Twitter user Anna Vetticad tweeted a photograph of Dorsey holding up a poster reading "smash Brahminical patriarchy," a reference to the highest caste — or social group — in Hindu society. The group picture was taken following a roundtable discussion with Indian women journalists and activists, and it drew Dorsey into a hugely sensitive issue about power structures in Indian society.
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Tensions between higher castes like Brahmins and lower-caste Dalits — a community of people once known as the untouchables — have been escalating in recent years. Activists say the rise of Hindu nationalism under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has increased the oppression of lower castes.
Many Indians reacted with outrage, accusing Dorsey and Twitter of "hate speech" that singled out one group in society.
"Tomorrow if (Dorsey) is given a poster with anti Semitic messages in a meeting will his team allow him to hold it up?" tweeted Mohandas Pai, a former director at Indian tech firm Infosys. "Inciting hate against any community is wrong."
A Twitter spokeswoman told CNN on Tuesday that the poster was a gift to Dorsey by a Dalit woman who participated in the roundtable discussion.
"The sentiments expressed on the poster do not reflect the views of Twitter as a company or Jack as the CEO, and we regret that this picture has detracted from an otherwise insightful trip to India," she said.
Dorsey spent a week in India earlier this month, his first trip to the country after what he said was a "lifetime of wanting to experience it." His visit included meetings with the Dalai Lama and Modi, who has over 44 million Twitter followers.
India is a hugely important market for Twitter (TWTR) and other tech giants, with more internet users than any country other than China and nearly 900 million people that are yet to come online.
Twitter's legal and public policy head Vijaya Gadde, who was also at the roundtable, later apologized individually to several users.
"I'm very sorry for this," Gadde said, adding that the poster did not reflect the company's views. "We took a private photo with a gift just given to us — we should have been more thoughtful. Twitter strives to be an impartial platform for all."
But Vetticad, who first tweeted the photograph, said it was taken by a Twitter representative and emailed to participants to share if they wished.
Many users also slammed Twitter's statement and Gadde's apology, saying the company should take a stance against the "oppressive" caste system and patriarchy.
The Twitter spokeswoman defended the company's response.
"We are proud of the fact that Twitter is a platform where marginalized voices can be seen and heard, but we also have a public commitment to being apolitical," she said. "We realize that this photo may not accurately represent that commitment."