Professionalism/Manoj Kumar Gupta and Shiv Das

Every workplace has its own culture with distinct norms, but regardless of locations, engineers may face situations that test their professional ethics to the limits. In India, civil engineers have faced pressure to comply with government orders that compromise their integrity. Those who resist may pay the ultimate price, but those who comply may lose even more. If your integrity and life were at stake, which would you sacrifice?

Manoj Kumar GuptaEdit

Uttar Pradesh, Northern India

Case OverviewEdit

Manoj Kumar Gupta served as an executive civil engineer in the Public Works Department of the northern Indian state Uttar Pradesh (UP). In 2008, he was pressured by political leader Shekhar Tiwari, the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for UP's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), to donate the equivalent of $300,000 USD to an extortion fund.[1] The money was allegedly for BSP Chief Minister Mayawati's birthday celebration,[2] as heads of the bureaucratic departments traditionally collect money from subordinates behind closed doors to present as gifts each year.[3] Gupta's predecessors had given plenty, and he was expected to do the same. [4] On December 23, 2008, following Gupta's refusal, Tiwari and 9 accomplices broke into Gupta's home, locked his wife in the bathroom, and proceeded to beat and torture the 50-year old engineer for over an hour [5] The assailants then dragged Gupta to the local police station in attempt to arrest him for "indulging in hooliganism," but police transported him to a hospital where he was declared dead.[6] All ten implicated in the case were sentenced to life in prison in May 2011.[7]

State of TerrorEdit

Gupta's circumstances were not an anomaly, but rather an extreme result of the oppressive relationship between the government and public works employees. According to Harry Singh, a retired Provincial Civil Service officer, "there were hardly 5% corrupt officers" in the 1970s, but "today 95% are corrupt."[8] Following the murder, a resident named Zafar recalled "only a couple of days back, Shekhar [Tiwari] and his henchmen had severely thrashed and humiliated two GRP personnel in full public view. Such is the terror that none dared to intervene."[9] In court, Gupta's predecessor C.D. Rai revealed that "Tiwari always tried to pressurize engineers to award contracts to his chosen men and he was given his cut in every contract."[10] Rai also informed the judge he had been pressured by the defense not to testify against Tiwani; he refused to change his stance[11] but soon after went into hiding.[12] Although authorities have deflected such allegations,[13] it is evident that UP engineers often work in a state of fear that threatens their professional judgement.

Engineering Ethics: The Professional's ResponseEdit

In the aftermath of Gupta's death, the response of the engineering community illustrates a key aspect in defining a professional. The Indian Engineers Federation, representing engineering services of all states, demanded CBI investigation, Tiwani's prosecution, compensation and protection to Gupta's family, and security to UP engineers, promising to raise countrywide agitation if these stipulations were not met within 2 months. The Uttar Pradesh Engineers' Assocation's (UPEA) President AA Farooqi requested government "security to all the engineers working in UP as instances of extortion and threat are on the rise," claiming "hundreds of engineers have complained in private that they are being threatened by criminal elements for allotment of contracts and extortion. But they are not coming in open because of fear."[14] The UPEA also organized a strike on the anniversary of the murder that included other state employees and teachers, protesting government apathy in murder cases of engineers.[15] On the third anniversary of Gupta's death, engineers observed condolence meetings across the state, with a 2-minute silence at UPEA's central office.[16] The outpouring of support through rhetoric and action is particularly meaningful in light of the paralyzing fear many engineers face daily and suggests an engineer has ethical duties not only to uphold his profession but to support those who boldly do so as well. Furthermore, the involvement of teachers and other state employees indicates professionalism binds individuals on a higher level than their disciplines. All professionals share a common set of fundamental, non-negotiable values with integrity at the forefront that warrant utmost respect and support for those who uphold them. To generalize, a professional's primary loyalties are not to what they do but to how and why they do it.

Shiv DasEdit

Tube wells provide groundwater for irrigation in India, but must be properly located and installed

Case OverviewEdit

Less than two years after Gupta's murder, another civil engineer was faced with a similar ethical dilemma. Shiv Das was an executive engineer in Uttar Pradesh's irrigation department responsible for installing over 30,000 tube wells in the district of Etawah. In February 2010, Bhim Rao Ambedkar, an MLA for the BSP, made an unauthorized request for 24 tube wells in his constituency, which Das refused to meet because some of the locations were unsuitable [17] and the operation needed recommendation by a committee led by the district magistrate [18] According to Das, Ambedkar then pressured him over the phone and issued death threats, saying Das would suffer a fate worse than Gupta if he refused to comply. [19] Das resigned the next day, claiming in his letter he had informed officials of "the threat given by the MLA in the past" but to no avail. [20] Following his resignation, Das abruptly disappeared. Mayawati ordered the Principle Secretary of Irrigation, Kishan Atoria, to make an inquiry into the case. Atoria reported that Shiv Das was merely at home with his family, preparing for his son’s wedding.[21] Yet Das reportedly failed to attend his son's marriage ceremony, which is unusual in Indian culture. [22] Many speculated as to whether he had suffered the same fate as Gupta, but three days after his disappearance, Das resurfaced, withdrew his resignation, and admitted his grievances with Ambedkar were resolved. [23] Meanwhile, Ambedkar denied threatening Das, contending the allegations were a ploy to malign his image. [24] Thus, Das managed to save his life, but did he sacrifice something more valuable?

Engineering Ethics: The Professional's DilemmaEdit

While Shiv Das' situation eerily parallels Gupta's, their responses elucidate the difference between an employee and a true professional. "Integrity" embodies wholeness and maintaining one's character under any circumstance. Gupta exhibited this virtue in refusing to sacrifice his and his profession's code of ethics, instead sacrificing his life. Das saved his life, but forfeited his integrity by denying principles he initially stood for under mounting fear and pressure. What does it take to be a true professional, and is "professionalism" a cause worth dying for?

Implications for Professional EthicsEdit

Professionalism v. Social NormsEdit

Manoj Gupta lived as a true professional, paying the ultimate price to uphold his code of ethics and integrity. Comments on an article posted by his former university a week after the murder reveal others' deep sense of respect for Gupta. Former classmate Prakash Bajpai wrote this "senseless killing highlights the basic issue of corruption and lawlessness of the political class of our society" but furthered that to avoid recurrence, "we the people who pride ourselves on our integrity have to involve ourselves more and more to management of political environment."[25] Ashish Singh also believed Gupta "has set an example of integrity,"[26] and Munish Fauzdar further lauded him as "a model citizen for everyone." [27] While it is evident that Gupta himself was a true "mensch", commenters like Amitabh Chattopadhyay's also noted that "it is well known that there is no place for an honest person in this country and Manoj's unfortunate incident is another proof..."[28] Thus, while it is clear that honesty and integrity are valued- and are fundamental virtues in any professional- exercising these traits is not the norm.

Similarly, when Shiv Das accused Ambedkar of threatening his life, Ambedkar responded, "I have all the right to recommend for installation of tubewells in the constituency and the engineer has violated the norms."[29] In both cases, the engineers were blamed for acting on their expertise and code of ethics over external "norms" with no rational significance. How can professionals defy social norms that conflict with their expert judgement?

Katherine Hamilton essentially sacrificed a successful track career to uphold her integrity

Case Study: Katherine HamiltonEdit

Tensions between social norms and professional ethics are not exclusive to engineering. The use of performance enhancing drugs has become standard practice in many sports, forcing many to choose between success and integrity, including heptathlete Katherine Hamilton. In 1979, Hamilton started her college career as the first women to receive a full track and field scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley. Hamilton had competed on a national team and anticipated Berkeley as the start of at least a decade-long career in the sport. At the time, there was little to no control on drug use, and Hamilton found herself in "a larger community where everybody knew that this [doping] is what you do." his conflicted with Hamilton's view of the ultimate purpose of athletics- that "you train and you compete on your own merits." Rather than succumb to the pressure to dope, or settle for being a clean but mediocre athlete, Hamilton walked away from the sport in 1981. Interestingly, she does not condemn athletes who choose to dope, claiming "I understand why they do it. I actually have a little compassion for them. But I don't support it. I don't condone it." Perhaps this compassion stems from her realization that cheaters have lost sight of the higher good that she was unwilling to sacrifice for the sake of money or success. [30] Although the stakes were lower than for Gupta and Das, she was still faced with the same fundamental ethical dilemma that pitted her livelihood against her integrity. What does it take for a professional to break social norms that appear to be more deeply rooted in their field than their code of ethics?


B.A.D. ProfessionalsEdit

All three cases examined here introduce a dichotomy between ethics and social norms. Gupta and Hamilton sacrificed their life and career, respectively, for the sake of their integrity; on the other hand, Das may have sacrificed his integrity, but saved both. From an external perspective, it appears the costs of adhering to ethical standards outweigh the benefits- so what drove these individuals to make such drastic sacrifices? To draw from Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, maybe they were after a higher good- one rooted in the cause they were fighting for, and not in the victory. They understood that success and honor were lesser goods on the path to eudaimonia, the highest good encapsulating virtue and human flourishing. Working for the higher good comes with a price- be it success, popularity, fortune, or even one's life- but is paramount to the definition of a true professional.

While these examples may seem extreme at face value, they reveal that professionals in any workplace are after a higher good, and that this pursuit often requires one to be "B.A.D:"

Bold – Professionals must act boldly to uphold their integrity, knowing they can never fully anticipate the risks or consequences involved.

Autonomous – Professionals are grounded in a code of ethics that is independent of social norms.

Defiant – Professionals are willing and able to defy social norms when they conflict with professional ethics and the pursuit of a higher good.

Such B.A.D. professionals are needed to transform a world of Tiwaris and cheaters into one of Guptas and Hamiltons, and one where the Shiv Das's are not afraid to act the same- a world where the "social norms" reflect true professional ethics.


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  2. Khan, A. (2009, January 4). No political conspiracy behind Gupta’s murder: DGP. The Hindu. Factiva.
  3. End to Maya b’day fund drive raises eyebrows. (2009, August 28).The New Indian Express. Factiva.
  4. Khan, A. (2009, January 4). No political conspiracy behind Gupta’s murder: DGP. The Hindu. Factiva.
  5. Tell-tale signs of torture. (2008, December 25)The Times of India. Factiva.
  6. Pradhan, S. (2008, December 25). Engineer's murder sparks off state-wide protests in UP. Rediff India Abroad.
  7. Life sentence for BSP MLA in engineer murder case. (2011, May 7). The Hindu. Factiva.
  8. PWD engineer Manoj Kumar Gupta brutally killed in Auraiya allagedly by BSP MLA Shekhar Tiwari when he refused to pay Rs three lakh demanded in the name of party fund. The Times of India. Factiva
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  12. Tripathi, A. (2011, May 7). Fearing for his life, lone witness remains in hiding. The Times of India. Factiva.
  13. Khan, A. (2009, January 4). No political conspiracy behind Gupta’s murder: DGP. The Hindu. Factiva.
  14. Engineers’ apex body seeks. (2009, January 5). The Times of India. Factiva
  15. Engineers to protest against govt. (2009, December 21). The Times of India. Factiva
  16. Engineers remember Manoj Gupta. (2011, December 26). The Times of India. Factiva
  17. UP engineer resigns on facing life threats by ruling party MLA. (2010, February 21). Economic Times Bureau.
  18. Engineer tells Maya, your MLA is threatening me. (2010, February 22). The Times of India. Factiva.
  19. UP engineer resigns on facing life threats by ruling party MLA. (2010, February 21). Economic Times Bureau.
  20. Crime up engineer lead MLA two last Lucknow. (2010, February 21). United News of India.
  21. UP engineer alleges threat from MLA, probe ordered. (2010, February 22). The Times of India.
  22. Crime up engineer lead MLA two last Lucknow. (2010, February 21). United News of India. Factiva
  23. Matters resolve between irrigation dept Engineer and BSP MLA. (2010, February 22). United News of India. Factiva.
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