Monday, April 27, 2009

Publication:Times Of India Delhi;
Date:Oct 26, 2008;
Section:Times Life;
Page Number:88

Soul Curry
His daughter's keeper
There is no black or white in life, only shades of grey prevail, discovers Skand Shukla
TIMES NEWS NETWORK THIS incident took place some years ago at a remote district in Uttar Pradesh, where I had been posted as the district education officer. It had all the characteristic features of a backward district, a low literacy rate — merely 27.2 per cent for women, being one of them. One afternoon, as I entered my chamber after a gruelling field tour and wading through a waiting crowd of applicants and complainants, I found myself face to face with a young lady, who was giving my steno a tongue-lashing. "Your SDI school is corrupt, Sir," the young lady said, directing her anger at me. I offered her a seat and a glass of water to calm her down and asked her to tell me her problem. She had applied for the post of shiksha mitra in the primary school of her gram panchayat, where she stood first in the merit list of applicants. However, she said, the SDI of the block was not forwarding the list to the district office. I explained that the delay did not cheat her of the opportunity, as her ranking would remain unchanged. But, it was not as simple as that. "I'm married and my gauna (when a bride goes to her in-laws' home for the first time) is after a couple of months. The SDI is waiting for me to go to my sasural so that the boy, who is placed second in the list, can move up to the first ranking as I get declared the resident of a different gram panchayat," she said.
"Perhaps, the SDI has got some bribe for this. I want to work, Sir. I want to be financially independent," she added, almost in tears. I assured her of justice and sent directions to the concerned SDI to be present with the records the next day. Later that evening at home, I was told I had an urgent visitor. The man, in his late forties, fell at my feet when he saw me, exclaiming, "I'm the father of the girl who met you at your office regarding the shiksha mitra issue. Please don't appoint her to that post." I was shocked. "But why?" I demanded. "Your SDI is not to blame at all. The fact is I myself got complaints filed to delay the selection process. I am a poor man and got my daughter educated with great effort. She was married a year ago. The boy, placed next in the ranking, has given me money for stalling my daughter's appointment so that when she leaves for her in-laws' home, he gets the job. The money this boy has given me will help me organise her gauna ceremony," he said helplessly. He was in tears, caught between fatherly duty and love, while I stood dazed, unsure of the administrative action to take — to give the young girl a taste of emancipation, or to support her father in his quest for his social responsibilities. I could do neither as I got my transfer order the next day, before I could get to the file. I remain unsure to this day of the decision I would have taken.

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