London, Nov. 28: An Indian computer worker who was sent by his firm in England to New Delhi to help train local staff was then ordered back because his accent was “not English enough”.
Humiliated and angered, Chetankumar Meshram took his employers, Talk Talk, an Internet and telephone service provider, to an industrial tribunal and has just won £5,000 in compensation after an 11-month battle.
Meshram, who was born in India, told his local paper, the Northampton Chronicle: “I was called into a meeting with my boss who told me I was going home because my accent wasn’t English enough, and I was to be replaced with a better English speaker.”
“I know I speak with an accent but my job out there was to give technical advice, not to give expertise on how to communicate. It was an embarrassing and humiliating experience,” he said.
Those who found both his spoken English and his grammar unacceptable were his English bosses in New Delhi. They felt he was having difficulty passing on his computer skills to Indian staff. He was ordered back to England just three weeks into his two-month secondment in India.
“It is a very unusual case,” agreed a spokesperson for the Northamptonshire Racial Equality Council (NREC), which helped Meshram take the case to the tribunal.
Meshram, 27, is an MA student in management studies at Northampton University, but he also works for Talk Talk Direct, a subsidiary of the giant Carphone Warehouse communications group. He came to the UK in 2005 and claims to have been speaking English since the age of two.
The principle that seems to have emerged from the case is that an Indian worker may not be dismissed from his job for having too Indian an accent if good spoken English is not deemed to be an essential part of that job.
In any case, Meshram, who has undertaken a round of TV interviews in the aftermath of his victory, “does not have that pronounced an accent”, the NREC spokesperson insisted.
Complaints about his grammar were also found to be unjustified by the tribunal, the spokesperson added.
The NREC lawyer, Christopher Fray, who represented Meshram during a three-day hearing in Bedford, said: “Mr Meshram is an extremely friendly, intelligent and efficient worker and it is sad that he has had to endure embarrassment and humiliation purely because he has an Indian accent.”
He emphasised: “This case delivers a clear message to the community that preconceived ideas about a person’s intelligence or ability should not be judged by the type of accent with which they speak.”
After winning his racial discrimination case against his employer, Meshram continues to be employed by Talk Talk.
He said he was delighted. “I have been through a lot of restlessness and worry over the past 11 months so I’m relieved it is finally over with. I am glad to have been awarded the money but the most important thing is that justice has been done.”