Well done, but miles to go
S. Madhusudhana Rao
The media and the public have gone ecstatic over Saturday’s Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) results. It is joie de vivre for all the right reasons: For the first time in UPSC’s history, top four spots among five went to women in the all-India civil service finals. Moreover, in another example of women’s power surging, a physically challenged woman, Ira Singhal, has topped the list, followed by Renu Raj, Nidhi Gupta and Vandana Rao, who, incidentally, was the topper in Other Backward Class category.
Among the four top women achievers, Ira’s performance is creditworthy. Overcoming many odds, the differently-abled 29-year-old has shown an indomitable spirit and grit to scale new heights competing with lakhs of candidates in the general category.
We could see her resolve to succeed in her response to her historic accomplishment: “My disability never turned out as barrier to my dreams and aspirations. I want to be an IAS officer so that I can do something for the benefit of the physically-handicapped people.”
Ira stands out as a prime example – and role model – for how disability can’t be a handicap to achieve life’s goals, however demanding they are. Third ranker Nidhi Gupta, echoing similar view, told Mail Today,
“Women like her (Ira) are role models for people who think that they are a burden to this society. Parents of such children, especially girls, should boost their confidence by providing them education and help them prosper irrespective of the hardships offered by life.”
Ira’s success has not come by easily; it has been paved with struggle for rights and recognition of the physically challenged women in a male-dominated country. We have to go back to 2011 when she cleared her civils; but the government had denied her an opportunity to serve the nation, citing her disability. To add insult to injury, Ira’s candidature was cancelled.
The main reason given was Ira’s 62 per cent disability, known as Noonan Syndrome, a congenital disorder that affects both arms. The condition would not allow the victim to pull, push and lift heavy articles. It is arguable, however, whether an officer needs to do so much physical work in a government office. Nevertheless, the government felt that she should be physically fit to work in the Indian Revenue Service (Customs and Central Excise).
Not cowed down by an archaic rule, Ira moved the Central Administrative Tribunal which upheld her stand after 18 months. Surprisingly, medical tests had proved that she could lift weights up to 10kgs, proving her disqualification was biased. Ira’s fight for justice is a profile in courage that has few parallels.
That brings us to the point how many women, educated and uneducated, with disabilities, go to extraordinary lengths to secure their rightful places in society and community? Ira should be considered as a torch-bearer and inspiration for women denied of opportunities.
At the same time, while an increasing number of Indian women are breaking the glass ceiling and storming into what are stereotypically called male bastions, the stark reality and dark facts of how women are treated in this country can’t be glossed over. Rapes, discrimination, bias, aborting or abandoning of girl child, crimes against women, treating females as sex objects, etc. are too common to describe in detail.
Nevertheless, against all odds, women have been forging ahead in every field of activity and proving their mettle that they are second to, well, none, including spouses. But again, those who have made a mark are an exception to the general rule and their rise and spectacular performance from politics to science and technology depends on the kind of opportunities they are able to grab and work their way up. For the rest of the women, such opportunities will never come and remain a dream as most of them are stuck in rural quagmire of poverty, misery, tradition and social and family taboos.
In many communities, women are forced to lead a condemned life, treated like second class citizens, denied basic amenities and human dignity, treated as biological objects to satisfy the carnal needs of man, or any male, a procreator for perpetuating the family tradition (only with male children) and a 24X7 working machine.
Despite official and non-official efforts, movements for women’s emancipation are yet to percolate to the lowest rung of social ladder and millions continue to languish in social and economic bondage.
Come summer, women have to trek miles to fetch a pitcher of drinking water; female fetuses are aborted; young girls are trafficked or forced into prostitution; married girls are harassed, or even killed, for dowry; they are discriminated against male siblings, among many other unspeakable acts of horror.
One could dismiss these as aberrations of a patriarchal social system that reveres the male supremacy and in a resurging India the inequalities and injustices are bound to disappear with improvements in socio-economic conditions. Even if that assertion is accepted, what about women’s welfare in a country that boasts of being an economic powerhouse in Asia after China? Or, for that matter, basic conveniences such as toilets in public places like railway stations and bus depots? Even if they exist, they are only for namesake. More bizarre are schools without separate toilets for girls. If that’s the situation in urban areas, the plight of females in villages need not be described.
It’s a paradox. While we hail and celebrate women’s achievements in every field, most of the female population in the country is still untouched by women power. The onus is on the new generation of civil servants, like the four women toppers, to bring in the required socio-economic change.