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Breaking the glass ceiling: Standing tall in a man’s world

The story of Manjari Jaruhar, the first woman IPS officer of Bihar, is as inspirational as it is revealing of societal ills

Breaking the glass ceiling: Standing tall in a man’s world
Manjari Jaruhar was also the country’s fifth woman IPS officer

At a time when women are mostly at the top of the charts of almost all competitive examinations, from class X level to the civil services, the story of a woman breaking the glass ceiling in areas that were traditionally considered a man’s preserve, is a reminder of how gender bias is ingrained in society, not only in the minds of men, but also women.

The nation knows very well the story of Kiran Bedi, the country’s first Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, but there are many other women who had to fight hard against the system to get their due. It’s strange that while our Constitution and legal processes do not discriminate against women, subordinate rule-making never took into account women being in the workforce. The result of this asymmetry was that while women have worked for ages in offices, their needs are hardly taken care of. Separate washrooms or barracks being a case in point at most places.

Manjari Jaruhar, a 1976-batch IPS officer, was the first woman IPS officer of Bihar and the country’s fifth and her story—Madam Sir—encapsulates what women had to go through, not only to prove that they are capable of serving as police officers, but also how the system did not have proper processes in place for women officers even after three decades of independence.

Imagine the plight of Jaruhar, who, after completing her basic training at the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, comes to Patna for her district training and the inspector general concerned tells her he does not know what to do with her. The IG tells Jaruhar that he has asked for Kiran Bedi’s file for guidance in the matter. After completing basic training, followed by district training, IPS officers are first posted as assistant superintendents of police and then as superintendents of police. However, both these positions did not come to Jaruhar in the natural course, as it should have been, and as was the case with fellow male IPS officers. Reason: she was a woman and the superiors were not sure whether a woman was capable of handling such positions. Jaruhar had to lobby hard for these positions and excelled when finally given these postings.

But Jaruhar’s first brush with gender discrimination was at home, and herein is a great sociological lesson because she did not hail from the lower income strata of society, but a upper income, well-educated family. Despite such a background, the family never encouraged education for girls as a means to a career; it was treated as a stop-gap measure for a good marriage. And marriage did happen when she was still in college and to an upper strata family based in Delhi. By all accounts she got a trophy husband—an Indian Foreign Service officer—and if all had gone well she would have settled as a nice homemaker.

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But life had other plans for her. She faced domestic ostracism at the hands of her in-laws and was ignored by her husband for reasons she has not disclosed but are easy to guess. Though her family came forward to support her and even suggested she remarry, Jaruhar took control of her life here on, enrolling for post-graduation in Delhi University and taking the civil services exams. She qualified for IPS, and during her training fell in love with fellow officer Rakesh Jaruhar, to whom she subsequently got married.

At the district level she excelled as SP, Bokaro, where she did an excellent job in controlling the anti-Sikh riots in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination and won the hearts of the victims. When the riots broke out, Jaruhar was on a planned leave in Mumbai. With no flight connectivity she travelled by train and upon reaching Bokaro immediately took charge and controlled the violence. However, she regrets not being in the city when it most needed her.

Jaruhar has described in detail her postings and her work, the challenges she faced and gender bias is on top of the charts everywhere. However, to be fair, she did receive great support and encouragement from several senior fellow officers whom she mentions. Apart from her SP days in Bokaro, her notable stints were at the National Police Academy, central forces like the Central Industrial Security Forces and the Central Reserve Police Force. Jaruhar and her husband were later moved to Jharkhand cadre when the state was carved out from Bihar. She and her husband served in the newly-formed state in the initial days in the hope that the new state would carve a bright future for itself. The couple’s disillusionment a couple of years later is something with which every resident of the state can relate to.

Jaruhar’s story is a must-read chiefly for two reasons. One, it’s very inspirational in nature—a woman coming from a privileged background facing adversity and overcoming them purely by dedication and hard work. Second, it vividly describes that achieving any goal is a continuous struggle and no job should be seen as finished where one can relax. Sadly, much of today’s youth aspires for civil services for all the wrong reasons—power and privileges being chief among them.

It is often thought that unlike their IAS counterparts, IPS officers do not have much scope to broadbase their horizon as they move up the ladder. This misconception is cleared after reading Jaruhar’s account of her days in CISF and CRPF and her stint at NPA where she trained young IPS officers.

There are two shortcomings in the book, though. One, it could have dwelt more on police reforms. Second, since Jaruhar had a good going in Bihar during the reign of Lalu Yadav, she’s very soft on him. Notwithstanding her good going, perhaps she could have thrown more light on what went wrong with the state during his and his wife’s tenure.

Madam Sir: The Story of Bihar’s First Lady IPS Officer
Manjari Jaruhar
Penguin Random House
Pp 288, Rs 399

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First published on: 09-10-2022 at 02:00:00 am