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.