“There is no occasion for women to consider themselves subordinate or inferior to men.” – M K Gandhi
In 1949, the Indian Foreign Service list was topped by a woman, C B Muthamma, a Coorg native who became the the first woman to enter the Indian civil services. She was also the first woman IFS officer. However, she had to sign an undertaking on entering the foreign service that she would resign if she got married! In fact, there have been women IFS officers who’ve had to leave the service because they got married (Mira Sinha Bhattacharjea and Rama Mehta). Things have changed for the better today but a look at the numbers would reveal that the representation of women is still poor when it comes to the civil services in India.
The year 2015 was a remarkable year as far as women civil servants are concerned. The first four ranks went to women. Ira Singhal, Renu Raj, Nidhi Gupta and Vandana Rao bagged ranks 1, 2, 3 and 4 respectively in the UPSC civil services exams of that year. There have been many women toppers in the IAS exams and women featuring in the top 10 are a regular feature these days. But does all this lead to a more inclusive framework for women in the civil services? The UPSC does not discriminate against women. Men and women have equal chances of making it to the services. In fact, the government encourages women candidates to apply as given in the UPSC notification of 2017 and 2016. The admission fee of ₹100 is also waived for women. But still, for every 20 male IAS officers, there is only 1 female IAS officer. Since 1974, the Indian civil services have taken only a little above 650 women as compared to over 3500 men.
So, despite at least nominal encouragement by the government, and virtually no discrimination from the law, why is the number of women low compared to men in the services? The answer largely lies in the societal perceptions of women and the traditional patriarchal mindset pervasive in Indian society. The number of women in uniform or in service, or doing any profession for that matter is less compared to their male counterparts. As long as women are not empowered in all other aspects of life, their number in the civil services would also be dismal. Again, changes of such nature cannot be brought overnight. Only generational changes can ensure true equality in the long run.
Why do we need more women in the civil services? For the simple reason that women constitute about 48% of the population and a genuine addressal of their grievances and problems is possible only when there would be more women in the services with the power and authority to bring about change using the system. We need more women IPS officers because many women have reported that they feel comfortable approaching members of the police force with a complaint if they see women in uniform. To address women-specific problems in society, it is prudent to have more women within the rungs of power. Even otherwise, women who are talented and have the desire to serve the country must be given the chance to do so. The private sector has opened up to women with flexible work hours and other options so that they don’t lose out on this reservoir of talent. Our government sector must also respond to this actively.
There are many successful women in the Indian civil services for women to emulate and take inspiration from. Kiran Bedi, Nirupama Rao, Chokila Iyer, Anna Rajam are a few names that motivate hundreds of other young women to take up the IAS exam and prove their mettle. Remember the only glass ceiling that cannot be broken is the one that is built in the mind!
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