Thursday, 8 August 2013


When I first heard about Durga Shakti and her frontal attack on sand mining I thought what everyone must have thought- that her parents did a great job naming her.

There is a power to archetypes, as Jung postulated, and here's an archetype as old as humanity-the young woman, made up of the purest essence of every godly quality, rising to fight darkness and evil, her approach simple and direct, her victory complete.

Then her troubles started, as they were bound to. For her story has another archetype attached to it- the fact that there may hardly be any IAS officer now living who has not been penalised in some way for fighting illegal activities as a youngster in the field, as an SDM or a DM. And however cynical the world may be about our merit and spine, it is still only a very small proportion of youngsters who throw idealism to the winds and join the loot. The pressures to bend or break take somewhat longer to act on IAS officers. Possibly this is an effect of the passionate, intense training we undergo in Mussoorie. 

The normal penalty when one cracks down on illegality is to get transferred. We like to boast mildly of the number of transfers we undergo. It is among us a subconscious measure of a person's merit. Too few transfers and we automatically assume the person is coopted; far too many and we decide the person may be having other personality problems besides the burden of being honest. We may often be wrong both ways but that's how our minds work.

There are other ways of being penalised as well, from being served notices calling explanation on trivial matters, to never getting a decent or comfortable posting and always feeling vaguely discriminated. 

The common factor in such penalties is that they are not actionable despite the mental and often physical trauma they cause. In the end the record of the officer stays clean. One gets used to  such things happening and in the long run forgets about them though they definitely contribute to the bending and breaking process.

But to get suspended and chargesheeted on zero evidence- and after several weeks, to have no let-up despite all the anger everywhere against what has happened? That's new. If it is possible to chargesheet her without evidence it will eventually be possible to render an irreversible penalty to her, a miscarriage of justice which, if it happens, will disqualify this country from being called a democracy or a republic. 

Why is she being witch-hunted to this extent? I suspect another kind of archetype comes into play here. Young women tend to be seen first and heard later, their message lost because the audience is looking and not listening- and looking through thick distorting glasses of unconscious patriarchy. The audience thus reacts to what it sees, and actually sees what is its own mind; and a young woman bucking a trend is in this state of mind a thing to be beaten down and punished, a germ of rebellion and instability to be destroyed at all costs. Here logical thinking or political calculation ends and witch-hunting in its most literal sense begins. Because by now surely the loss of political capital and bureaucratic goodwill far surpasses whatever political gain had been expected. 

Durga herself has chosen to stay silent and dignified all through her continuing ordeal. This is, in fact, how most of us have dealt with whatever has been dished out to us. The option of appealing to the Central Government or to the Courts are always open to her and if she chooses to exercise her options one by one according to necessity, she is to be commended. After all it is she who is living through it and she who has to bear the long term consequences. 

How about the rest of us? The UP IAS Association showed exceptional and dignified courage in instantly protesting the suspension. The Central IAS Association which includes as active members the entire senior bureaucracy of the Government of India apart from representing every IAS officer across the country is leaving no stone unturned to find ways to get justice for her. 

Why is her case different? Bad things happen to bureaucrats every day in every state. Often the circumstances surrounding such events render some uncertainty as to who is to blame. We IAS officers tend to hold ourselves to rather high standards of behaviour. Here, however, she is patently in the right and she is being hounded blatantly for petty gain. She is a tipping point; we have had enough. Silence is not an option any longer. 

Two PILs have been filed by third parties; one in the Allahabad High Court and one in the Supreme Court. There is a view that since she herself is not appealing yet these PILs have no locus standi. This, however, is simply not true because the issue is not only about her. It's about what is common sense and what isn't; what is justice and what isn't; what is politics and what isn't. It is, in fact, quite simply about truth and lies. 

Our nation may be constructed on the basis of a Book- the Constitution- but its functioning is purely mythological. We survive on heroes and gods, heroines and goddesses. The cult of the individual lies at the heart of every success this nation has seen. The image of a young and upright IAS or IPS officer setting things right in his or her area has its own archetypal value as may be seen in the popularity of this theme in Bollywood. 

In fact, nations work on systems, not on individuals; but mythological terms are a perfectly valid and very human way to deal with reality. 

The Courts must consider the importance of her case in these sweeping terms, not as an individual sad case. The future of the nation could well depend on what happens next to her. 

Friday, 8 March 2013


It all started for me last year in April when something, I don't remember what, prompted me to post this Facebook status:

This elicited a lot of discussion among my friends as can be seen. For anyone who doesn't want to read through all the comments on the post, I would hasten to clarify that I quickly realised that what I had actually wanted to say is "a world designed for women and children too", not quite "a world designed by women", which was rather presumptive in assuming that men weren't capable of designing a world convenient for women and children, though it did bring out the fact that the existing world has been designed by men with very little thought on this subject.

Well, in July 2012 came Anne Marie Slaughter's now legendary article, which kickstarted a conversation that had been waiting to happen for decades- Why Women Still Can't Have It All

The tempo in this conversation is yet to slacken, and in fact is gathering traction every day.

Today morning my friend  Meeta Sengupta, came up with the idea of starting a conversation on the valuation of the kind of unpaid work that housewives have been traditionally expected to do for generations, and- who knows?- maybe even having it added to GDP, or having it as a part of a new measure of productivity, prosperity,and well being, in the near future. I was too happy to join in with her.

We shared some ideas, which are now posted on her blog here,

It may well be asked why one should take the trouble of measuring things which are by definition unpaid, i.e. what is the economic value of conducting such a valuation?

It is established that getting women into education and into the workplace adds tremendous value, a couple of first-item-off-google links which I was prompted to look for by some Men's Rights Activists on Twitter an hour back (and I'm really grateful to the MRAs for making me look for evidence for things or analyse data to refute their entertaining but bizarre and horrifically wrong claims) will show that they indeed do:

Women doing well in higher education

Women adding value to companies

If we want to get more women into higher education and into high value, full time work, we simply have to bring about institutional mechanisms to

  1. make it easier for men in a household to share in the housework and caregiving
  2. free people from unnecessary housework
  3. create public support systems for caregiving
  4. allow all workers, men and women, to have enough time for their family and personal life.

These will have costs, of course.

The fact however is that many countries and many companies are finding the investments that these steps require to be worthwhile.

This is a piece dated 1990 about the day care system in France written by none other than Hillary Clinton.

This is a piece showing that Quebec's equally comprehensive childcare programme is economically viable

There are many other ideas on the subject which have tended to have been broached and then ignored.
They are not necessarily "impractical" or difficult to implement".
Further, in the midst of ongoing fears that leaning too much in favour of women's rights would lead to a breakdown of the family or the institution of marriage, for example,
These are the kind of steps which can revitalise these very institutions while making the economy stronger than ever.

This Women's Day, I think the time for thinking through and implementing such ideas has come.