IHEU has condemned recent aggression against prominent Humanist Mr C L N Gandhi, including abuse based on his birth caste. Mr Gandhi is Additional Commissioner of Road Transport, Andhra Pradesh State, India.
Mr. Gandhi, a popular officer, was attacked and abused on 28 July 2008 in his office by the powerful proprietors of a Bus Transport Company because his department had seized one of their buses for violation of regulations. Instead of making amends for the illegality of their actions and instead of following the due procedure for release of their vehicles, a huge posse of supporters accompanied by the media created a difficult situation of intimidation and aggression, aimed at sending a message to officials down the line. Worse, television screens have repeatedly shown several minutes of footage where the proprietor Mr. Prabhakar Reddy of Diwakar Travels abused Mr. Gandhi on the basis of the caste of Mr. Gandhi’s birth. The incidents have dominated the news for the past 3 days, and the media commentary as well as the protest demonstrations being organised have mostly concentrated on the need to respect different castes and different professions.
Mr. Gandhi was born in a family of barbers, one of the lowest of castes in the Indian social order, but it goes beyond any civilized norm to suggest that since Mr. Gandhi was born in the barber caste he was not fit to be an officer of the Government. Mr. Gandhi’s own career and stature in society is evidence that given the opportunity, every one, irrespective of the caste of their birth, can rise to high office in society.
Wrong on two counts
The attack on our colleague Mr. Gandhi needs to be condemned on two counts, apart from the obvious illegality of violating rules and intimidating an officer of the Government:
– Mr. Gandhi has been associated with IHEU and its Member Organisations: the Rationalist Association of India, the Indian Renaissance Institute and the Indian Radical Humanist Association for nearly three decades. He and his family members consider themselves Humanists, have abandoned religion and the castes of their birth, and have married beyond the narrow confines of caste.
After the incidents, Mr. Gandhi himself expressed his sadness that even though he never adopted a caste identity either in his personal or in his professional life, the protests against his maltreatment are also being organised on caste lines. “I have no caste, and this personal abuse does not affect me at all. However, in modern India it would be a terrible thing if any citizen were to speak of a vital profession in society in a denigrating and condescending manner or suggest that professions should be on the basis of birth and not ability. I suggest that the present discussion should not be confined to the events where I was targetted – opinion makers should engage with the question of how we can do away with the caste system itself as that is a prime cause of the backwardness and existing divisions in Indian society”.
– Speaking insultingly of an honorable profession, or implying that descent should be the criterion for one’s profession interferes with the free choice and exercise of profession, guaranteed by the various UN Declarations. Discrimination on the basis of Race, or on the basis of Caste, or on the basis of one’s profession falls foul of the 1965 UN Convention Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination of which India is a signatory.
Articles 15(i) and 15(ii) of the Constitution of India prohibit all forms of discrimination by the State and its agents, or between individuals, including discrimination based on race and caste. Section 153, paragraphs (a) and (b), and Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code prohibit actions that promote disharmony, hatred, feelings of enmity and ill-will on grounds of race or religion, inline with Article 2, paragraph 1, of the UN Convention.
The recent incident would therefore attract the relevant provisions under Indian Law.
The caste system
Humanists have for long called for the disappearance of the caste system – a bastion of discrimination and promoter of inequality in society. In this context, and in the light of consolidation of caste groupings and caste politics in Indian society, the IHEU calls for an open debate to examine the nature and role that caste continues to play in Indian society. This would be on the lines of what the late Dr. Ambedkar, the Father of the Indian Constitution, has advocated for the emancipation of the millions of downtrodden in Indian society.
Human societies should be organised on the basis of our common humanity, and not on the basis of a system which divides people.
Babu Gogineni – IHEU International Director