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A Few Good Women

A Few Good Women

Author: Stephen David
Publication: India Today
Dated: February 4, 2008

Introduction: Illegal sand quarrying, bogus ration cards or inter-caste clashes, nine female civil servants in the state brave all odds to weed out corruption and bring reforms in the district of Mandya

Mandya's Maidens :

Kavitha Ralaram, Tehsildar of Mandya taluk is a 32-year-old former professor of English

R. Latha, Assistant commissioner of Mandya, is a 34-year-old former bank officer

R. Meghana, Election tehsildar, is a 24-year-old arts graduate

Dhanalakshmi, Tehsildar of Malavalli taluk, 34

Kumuda Girish, Assistant director of food and civil supplies, 29

R. Kavitha Rani, Tehsildar of Srirangapatna, 30

B.R. Poornima, Assistant commissioner of Pandavapura, 34

R. Suma, Taluk tehsildar of Krishnarajapet, is a 33-year-old documentary filmmaker and a former advocate

V.R. Shylaja, Tehsildar of Pandava­pura, is a 29-year-old former lecturer of geography

A bank officer, a school teacher of English and a filmmaker for Doordarshan. Between them, the nine women officers of Karnataka Administrative Services (KAS) in Mandya district, average age 28, encompass all. With mentoring from the district's deputy commis­sioner, N. Manjunatha Prasad, these officers are not just breaking the glass ceiling but creating waves in the Cauvery heartland thanks to their dedication to work. One of the first commandments from Prasad was that they forget they were officers and be accessible to the people at all times.

Thirty two-year-old Kavitha Raja­ram was an English professor before she became a KAS officer. As Mandya taluk tehsildar, she took the lead in imposing a curfew in the area to keep tension at bay following the brutal daylight murder of notorious Congress councillor Jadeja Ravi last month. It was left to officers like Rajaram and her immediate boss R. Latha, 34, district assistant commis­sioner and a former bank officer, to bring Mandya back to normalcy. "This job teaches you to take immediate decisions for the common good and forget about your own comfort zone," says Rajaram, who puts in 12 hours everyday in her work as do her fellow female officers. Latha and Rajaram have children but they say their fami­lies play a key role in helping them maintain the work-life balance.

Latha remembers her first day at work in July last year, "The day I reported, I landed up at Ullenahalli where there were clashes between an upper caste and Dalits. We saw Prasad handle the situation tactfully and fmd a solution within minutes." Prasad, an !AS officer and lIT-Delhi alumnus, served for 12 years in the toughest districts of West Bengal before coming back to his own state Karnataka. He gives credit to his young female offi­cers for much ofthe good work done in the district. "Mandya is like India, it has all the variety and it is a challenge for all officers. If you serve here, learn the rudiments, you can serve any­where in the country," he says.

Election tehsildar, 24-year-old R. Meghana is an arts graduate and is the youngest of the group, but it is thanks to her that recent elections to local bodies in the taluks were inci­dent-free. She worked with the district police and administrative machinery to ensure a free and fair poll. Mandya is also the fIrst district in the state to be ready with a fresh electoral roll for the upcoming elections. The offi­cers weeded out more than a lakh ineligible voters-read dead-while preparing the list. For the corrupt politician, this is usually a goldmine to be struck. But the women offi­cers ensured a door-to-door check was carried out to stamp out the wrongs in the system. "We hope we can make a small difference," says Meghana.

A postgraduate in Kannada language, 34-year-old Dhanalakshmi is the tehsildar of Malavalli taluk and has been responsible for ending kerosene adulteration in her taluk.

Another offIcer, assistant director of food and civil sup­plies in Mandya district Kumuda Girish, 29, cracked down on more than 20,000 bogus BPL (below poverty line) ration cards holders, much to the consternation of local politicians, but she refused to budge from her position.

In October 2007, R. Kavitha Rani, 30, tehsildar of Srirangapatna and her boss B.R. Poornima, 34, assistant commissioner of Pandavapura subdi­vision, achieved in less than a week what their predecessors could not in four previous decades-clearing the encroachments around the Lord Ranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangapatna. They also recovered the two-­and-half acre former Garrison Hospital property near the Fort Wall and handed it over to the Archae­ological Department. The Garrison Hospital walls are in ruins but the land, abutting the Cauvery river, could have been any resort owner's pride. The day the raids took place, both Rani and Poornima had switched off their mo­bile phones. Some of their underlings had managed to leak information to encroachers and the offenders were at the site as early as 5:30 in the morning bargaining for time to move out-a ploy to actually obtain court stay. Prasad was later inundated with phone calls but he handled them with care, according to Rani and Poornima. The absence of a politically-elected government has helped as there is little interference from higher-ups.

The duo, Poornima and Rani, have also brought in transparency in the counting of temple collections. Collections in the hundis of several temples, including the famous Nimishamba temple at Srirangapatna, have gone up with a total Rs 15 lakh amassed in four months. One temple in Melkote alone has accumulated about Rs 3 lakh. The officers have ensured for the first time that the opening of the hundi and counting of money is video graphed with tapes sent to them later.

F ormer high court advocate and documentary filmmaker R. Suma, 33, now tehsildar of Krishnarajapet taluk, 70 km from Mandya town, was responsible for bringing to an end illegal sand quarrying on the Hemavathi riverbank. A music buff, Suma is single but says she has always wanted to be in public service. "I don't mind the long hours of work, travelling from one village to the other." Former geography lecturer, VR. Shylaja, 29, is tehsildar of Pandavapura taluk. She was earlier stationed at Magadi, Bangalore, but was sent away because of a tussle with a local politician. "Coming here has been such a bless­ing," she says, "to see so many women officers and share notes."

As Krishna Gowda, a farmer puts it, "The female officers are more sensi­tive. They listen to us and we believe they will do their jobs and meet our needs." The nine-woman squad meets at Prasad's bungalow at least once a fortnight when he calls them for a review; otherwise they don't get to spend much time together. But when they do, they easily stand out.

"Mandya is like India. It has the variety, the politicos and is a challenge for all officers." N. Manjunatha Prasad, District Collector, Mandya.


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