An advertisement issued on April 6, 2016 by an Ahmedabad-based NGO, Human Development and Resource Centre (HDRC), recently turned into a full-blown controversy in Gujarat two and a half months later, because it called for giving preference to a non-reservation category person for the post of cleaner. It led to violent attacks (click HERE to read) on HDRC’s building, situated within the St Xavier’s College campus. The attackers, owing allegiance to saffron ideology, especially objected to naming caste/religious denominations as examples from whom the sweeper would be preferred. Tens of activists have come forward to support the HDRC and issued the following note:
We the undersigned concerned individual citizens would like to make our position/ stand public regarding a recent Human Development and Research Center (HDRC) advertisement to recruit sweepers for their office, stating that preference would be given to applicants from general category, who do not fall under reserved categories.
A series of violent protests were staged by different community groups against HDRC and its Director Prasad Chacko for hurting their individual and community feelings through that advertisement. This has been covered in both print and electronic media; hence it need not be elaborated. Many individuals and groups have filed a complaint against HDRC and Chacko with Gujarat Police Station under section 153 A of IPC. In addition to that many have given notice for clarification from HDRC and threatened to file legal complaints if HDRC does not provide appropriate clarifications and apologies.
In response to this, HDRC clarified their views on the advertisement clearly stating that it was absolutely not intended to hurt any one’s feelings, but to promote constitutional values and provisions and increased access to equal opportunity for all; especially in the occupations which are forced upon specific communities based on their social and caste identity. HDRC also expressed regret for having hurt the feelings of any individuals or community.
We the undersigned do share following common views and reflections vis-a-vis the advertisement and incidents which took place in its aftermath:
- The advertisement put forward does not violate any law of the land rather it appears to promote the principles of equality guaranteed by the constitution.
- The names of communities mentioned in bracket were presented as instances and not specifying that they seek people from those specific communities.
- We appreciate the initiative taken up by HDRC and its director to bring up the most pertinent issue into public discourse and challenge the systemic practices of inequality up front.
- We firmly stand by HDRC and its Director Prasad Chacko in this time of anguish they are going through and will continue to support them in fighting for justice.
- The protest against the advertisement might have hurt some people`s sentiments as it is claimed. But it also indicates insensitivity on the part of the larger society towards a particular community which has been forced to engage in this occupation for thousands of years. It also highlights how deep-rooted caste system, caste based discrimination exists.
We the undersigned have also come across following views and reflections coming from different people/organizations which are worrisome:
- Prasad has unnecessarily and intentionally invited the ruckus by way of job advertisement.
- A number of secular individuals and organizations joined hands in support of HDRC. Barring some, they were predominantly Dalit rights activists and organizations. Hence, the issue remained a Dalit rights issue and not an issue of human dignity, equality and rights.
- It is sad to note that, apart from groups of the so-called upper castes, other marginalized and minority community organizations have also imbibed the social evils of caste system and are practicing it, especially Muslim, Syrian Christians and Parsi communities in this case (this is evident from the fact that community leaders/ organizations from these communities joined the protest, made phone calls and sent memoranda/ complains to HDRC directly or via different mediums).
In the light of the above-mentioned views, reflections, experiences and concerns, we would like to put forward following appeal for action to all those concerned and who are struggling to ensure human dignity, equality, rights and unity. It is a call to ponder upon and contribute in whatever ways they can to take it forward:
- While continuing our efforts of empowerment and development of the most marginalized, we must stand in solidarity and support any individual/organization which challenges such unjust caste system and takes initiatives towards elimination of unjust systems.
- In such situations we should openly come out of our comfort zones and stand firm and united and put aside our individual differences.
- We as concerned citizens need to come forward to introspect about this caste based occupation and challenge the connection between occupation and the caste in our own way. So that sweeping and other such occupations are not associated to a particular caste any more. Thus, it should become just as occupations irrespective of caste, religion or any other ethnic identity.
Jitendra Rathod, Hozefa Ujjaini, Debarun Dutta, Manan Trivedi, Rohit Prajapati, Hasina Khan, Nayan Patel, Neha Dabhade, Sahiyar (Shtri Sangathan), Vijay Parmar, Sushila Prajapati, Mustaqueali Shaikh, Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ., Johanna Lokhande, Devendra Makwana, Advaita Marathe, K Shrinivas , Brinda Pancholi, Irfan Engineer, Janisar Shaikh, B Chakradhar, Pankaj Zapadiya, Parsottam Vaghela, Mohan Krishna, Robert David, Geeta Oza, Karuppusamy, S. Vishwanathan, Mehul Manguben, Rafi Malek, Vasudev Charupa, Renu Desai, Rajesh Singh, Annie Namala, Indu Prakash, P.L.Mimroth, Harsh Mander, Shabnam Hashmi, Ovais Sultan Khan, Valay Singh, Shweta Tripathi, Sanjeev Kumar, Vimalbhai, Ishwar Vaghela, Franklin Christian, Asha Kowtal, Reshma Asrani, Rosemary Vishwanath, Fr. Aloy, Oblesh, Vijaya Kumar, Santosh Rohit, Satndar Bhagat, Kannadasan