Sunday, May 17, 2009

Getting to the top

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, May 17, 2009


THE OTHER HALF



The people of Sehore, a small town in Madhya Pradesh just 35 km away from Bhopal, have another reason to be proud. Until a few weeks ago, the local people would boast of two things: one, that in 1824, the man who fought and died in what they believe is India’s first war of Independence against the British, Kunwar Chain Singh, lies buried in their town. And two, that former Vice President, Justice Mohammed Hidayatullah, studied in Sehore. Now they have another boast, that a young woman, daughter of a laid-off worker, has got into the Indian Administrative Service.

Priti Maithil might not be one amongst the three women who topped this year’s examination to the civil services but even holding the 92nd position is an incredible achievement. At 23, she got through the examination in the first attempt. Her father, Santosh Kumar, has been unemployed since 2002 when the Bhopal Sugar Industries where he worked closed down. One of the principal reasons for the closure, locals tell you, is because there is no water in Sehore. So how can industries run? This is the story of so many smaller towns where sources of employment dry up even as basic services such as water and electricity evaporate.

Bleak prospects

Yet, towns like Sehore have so much going for them, apart from history. They boast of a good education system, one that can produce people like Priti. But the tragedy is that scores of young people emerge from similar towns, with education and dreams, but few prospects.

But coming back to this year’s civil service examinations, it is interesting that the media made much of the success of the three women who held the top three ranks. Shubhra Saxena, Sharandeep Brar and Kiran Kaushal were interviewed and featured on front pages of many newspapers. But will this alter the realities they will face once they enter the service?

Not all women in the Indian Administrative Service think that gender is a problem. But many do. Some of them have openly spoken about it in the media. In some States, like Maharashtra, the women officers have come together at various times when they have felt that they are being overlooked for promotions. At such times, the issue of their status within the service becomes the subject of some discussion. But whether it leads to sustainable change in the way the service is run is still an open question.

Welcome changes

Some things have changed. Veena Sikri, who was in the Indian Foreign Service, writes about how, in 1971, when she entered the service, married women were not allowed. She had to get special permission to get married! She says that many women left the service when they got married.

Just 30 years ago, women officers like C.B. Muthamma had to fight long legal battles that went up to the Supreme Court because they were denied promotions to the rank of Secretary. Veena Sikri was also superseded to the post of Foreign Secretary and she has still not been given the reason why the government did this. She now teaches at Jamia Milia University in New Delhi.

The success of the three women toppers has also brought into the public realm the views of women in the services. Many of them remind us that it is still tough for them to succeed. The issue is not just of the double burden they must carry — of being wives and mothers and professionals. They have to confront a bias that has everything to do with their being women and nothing to do with their competence.

An IAS officer from UP is quoted in Asian Age (May 10, 2009) as saying: “All this talk of women making their presence felt in cadre services is humbug. Women are still discriminated against by their male colleagues in States like Uttar Pradesh. If a woman officer interacts with her male political boss for official purposes, she is linked romantically with him, but when male officers interact with a woman politician, there is no such allegation. A woman officer is made to work twice as hard to prove that she is half as good as her male colleagues.”

The views of this particular officer might not be universal and there are many women who deny facing any discrimination. Yet even a few voices like this suggest that it is not entirely a level playing field once women enter even though they get in through open competition and without any special concessions made to them because of their gender.

Yet, even if women officers face problems, there is no doubt that the civil service still provides a unique opportunity for real “service”. An honest and concerned officer can make a spectacular difference to the lives of people, especially when posted in the districts. Whenever you travel to district towns, you constantly hear stories of such officers. They are long remembered even after they have moved on to other posts.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

2 comments:

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पंकज सुबीर said...

सीहोर के बारे में लिखने से पूर्व सीहोर आकर दस पन्‍द्रह दिन रहें और तब लिखें तो जियादह अच्‍छा होगा ।