The honest officer

Almost 40 years ago, as a result one one of my mother's legendary 'if your brother was alive' I sat for the (ill)famed IAS exam and got through. I then decided not to join the services. That was the pact made with mama. There were many reasons for my not wanting to join the first being that I was married with a child and that my husband worked for a PSU and there was no way I wanted to be separated from him. Another reason I can share today was that I did not want any misplaced comments comparing our careers. Some people has already made some snide remarks. But in hindsight I believe that I somehow instinctively knew that I would not last in the service for long as there were some things I could not compromise with and one of them was honesty. So rather than leave in a huff some years down the line or be suspended, I thought it wiser to withdraw and leave the place to the next person on the list. I had kept my promise to my mother and that was where it ended. I embarked on a chequered career that suited my temperament be it teaching in a university, working as an interpreter or managing conferences and events.

I had forgotten about this aspect of my life but the recent treatment of a young and honest officer who was suspended just because she had the b**** to taken on a mafia revived old memories. Seeing this young woman's face on TV fills me with a mixed bag of emotions. I feel sad, angry, repulsed but also so terribly proud of her. I hope she gets the support she deserves and comes out a winner. But somehow I feel this will not happen. So many whistle blowers have been killed or simply forgotten in some dark corner. The state simply plays lip service, talks about a whistle blower's bill but it remains that: just talk.

I was horrified to hear a politician brag about how he got this young woman 'removed' in 41 minutes. IAS officers are the executive branch of our government and need to be given the space to work independently and consciously. They are not subservient to wily politicians who ridicule and belittle them. The fault of this young braveheart was to taken the sand mafia. She was doing her job. But as e know mafias enjoy political protection so she had to pay the price.

In my mixed career I too has trysts with corruption. It was quite a shock for me as most of the time I could not understand what was happening. In 1982 when I was working as Advisor Protocol for the IX Asian Games - at the fabulous salary of rupee one a month - I first encountered corruption when one of my PAs, a lovely man named Parwana Sahib, honest to the core and with not a mean bone in him, came to my office and told me that most of the staff assigned to me was not willing to stay as they knew they would not be able to 'make money' with me at the helm. I told him I understood and asked him how many were willing to stay. He told me 2. Six wanted to leave. I asked him whether he was one of those staying and he smiled his wonderful smile. I functioned with 2 staff and we met all our targets and did a great job.

During those days we were housed at Pragati Maidan and some of the fancy hotels of the time has outlets on the fair grounds. That was where we got our tea or meals. My second encounter with corruption was around the corner. I had ordered tea and some sandwiches and was surprised when i was told that there was no bill. I insisted I wanted one and proudly paid my 13 rupees but was still perplexed as to why there was no bill. Mr Parwana Sahib who would soon become my mentor in these issues explained that as there were contract for big parties that still had to be awarded, and that was the prerogative of our section, this was a way of soliciting. My answer was simple: there were 3 parties and 3 hotels, each one would get one party! Along the way I saw many avatars of corruption and was repelled by each of them.

Things have far from improved and the question is how long are we going to vote back time and time again people who have let us down hook line and sinker. People who make promises but are unwilling to keep them. How long will the honest have to pay and the dishonest thrive. How long will the people of this country have to wait to see their rights restored to them.

I wish I knew. But as long as there are people like this young woman aptly named Durga, there is still hope however bleak.

I salute this young woman.