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Padma Bhushan awardee Anna Rajam Malhotra passed away yesterday. Here is a tribute to all the challenges she faced as the first female IAS officer.
It was a couple of years since India had gained independence from the clutches of British Raj. That was still a time when women were mostly confined to the four walls of the home. Kitchen and caring for the family were considered as their domain, it was their most important responsibility which they had to dutifully fulfill.
It was from this very societal setup Anna Rajam Malhotra, independent India’s first female IAS officer emerged. Its very hard to believe, isn’t it? But with her sheer will, determination and capabilities Anna Rajam fought against all the odds, led an exemplary life as an administrative service officer. She has many successful development projects like the 1st computerized port at Nhava Sheva, Mumbai, done under her supervision.
Born in Alleppey, Kerala, she completed her schooling in Calicut. She got her MA degree in English from the Madras University. She cleared the civil service exams in the year of 1950. Not aware of the fact, that she was the first woman to do so, she went to attend the interview.
Her struggles and fights against gender bias began from that very moment. People’s mindset being different back then caused problems for Anna Rajam, they were very skeptical about accepting her as an administrative officer. During the interview the board of selectors discouraged her from joining. They were doubtful about a women’s capabilities in handling matters related to public affairs or the law and order. They were ready to offer other posts ‘more suitable to women’ like the foreign service or the central service. A very committed young women Anna Rajam didn’t budge.
Even the Chief Minister of the Madras state back then, C. Rajagopalachari had his grave doubts about her capabilities after her first posting there. More than clearing the exam it was challenging for her to prove her worth to all these people. With hard work and strong resolve, she did it!
She had to often do more than what men usually did to prove that women are capable too and all that they need is right opportunities. She got herself trained in horse riding, rifle and revolver shooting and also using magisterial powers to stay in par or even ahead of men. Back then in the 1950s this must have been a revolution, a women learning all these rather than the kitchen chores.
Her efforts paid off. She worked with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Asiad project, she travelled to 8 states with Indira Gandhi regarding agriculture and food production and she has also worked with 7 Chief Ministers. The Indian government recognized her services to the nation and awarded her the Padma Bhushan in 1989.
At the age of 91, this great change maker passed away yesterday. The way she led her life is a learning for all of us, women. Like her we must fear not to take the first step and be a propagator of change. The consequences are going to be severe, but we should be brave enough to face them and then success will be ours.
Image Source – Interview with The Hindu
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