It was just another December morning. Sitting inside my chamber, I was engrossed in my usual official work. I’m a Group-A gazetted officer working in the department of Finance (Revenue), Government of West Bengal. I have to deal with lot of general public on a daily basis due to my job profile. At the most basic level, my job requires me to go through deeds of immovable properties and register the same and collecting the government revenue. On that day, I found a line in a particular deed due to which an increased duty would be levied. I pointed out the line to the concerned lawyer who had drafted the deed. She was a junior lawyer working under the guidance of her senior who I’ll refer to as Mr. D for anonymity. She stated that she would strike through the particular line to avoid the increased stamp duty. Within a few moments, Mr. D came inside my office, huffing and puffing. Being a presumptuous man, his ego was hurt in front of his client as he had drafted the deed himself. He said that he would neither strike through the line nor pay the increased stamp duty. Clearly, he was the all-knowing, learned lawyer and a mere mortal, that too a female government officer, couldn’t point out his errors. He started shouting inside the office, in front of all the public. I accosted him and told him to immediately leave the office premises and stated for his kind information that a government office couldn’t be the venue for his theatrical performance. Red hot fury coursed through his veins as his caricature came to an abrupt halt. He swore that he would return soon to take his revenge.

It was afternoon and I was having lunch. Suddenly, I started to hear sounds of commotion alongwith creaking sound of the wooden partition wall separating the office area from the area meant for the general public. In the very next minute, I heard loud banging on the door. I opened the door and came outside. The peon informed me that the lawyers of the local court have come to meet the officer. If the officer didn’t meet them immediately, they threatened to crash the wooden partition wall and to damage paraphernalia belonging to the office. I rushed outside. There were at least fifty persons standing outside, all of them attired in lawyer’s black suit. It was the first time I was seeing them. So I couldn’t recognize most of them. Later I came to know that they were members of the Criminal Bar of the local court and it was, indeed, their first visit to my office. And why did they take the trouble to visit my officer? Simple. Just to create ruckus inside the office premises and show their power. They had come at the behest of their fraternity member, Mr. D. Apparently, the new lady officer had the gall to insult such an all-knowing, all-powerful lawyer. Why didn’t they teach her a good lesson?
For the next few hours, they used all sorts of ugly, abusive words against me and vandalised the office. They even questioned my parentage, whether I was an illegitimate child or not. Then they asked me how I managed to get a government service, whether by legitimate means or by bribing someone in power. It is, indeed, difficult to digest that a woman can land a job through sheer hard-work and perseverance. Then they alleged that I pointed out the errors in the deed drafted by Mr. D because I was seeking monetary favour from Mr. D which he refused. Next they summoned media people and claimed in front of media that I was a corrupted official and that I even twisted the arm of a protesting lady lawyer.
I was shaken to the core. Nobody insulted me in this way before. But this is not the story of how I was insulted or belittled. Rather, this is a story of how I discovered the power of sisterhood in that difficult time. I was sobbing and managed to call another lady officer working in the same district. I had a panic attack and had to take a long leave from office to recover fully from the trauma. For days afterwards, the filthy, abusive words kept ringing in my ear. I was unable to sleep for many days and my doctor prescribed sleeping medication and advised to consult a psychiatrist. Even in my medication-induced sleep was fitful, full of lurid nightmares. I went through the motions of the day like a zombie. I was totally devastated. I was questioning my own career choice. In those days, the lady officers working in my district gave me their whole-hearted, uncontidional support. Be it consulting lawyers or informing local political leaders about the situation of my office, they were always trying their best to defend me. I was flabbergasted, clueless about how to take the next logical step. They guided me in every step. For the first time in life, I realised that when women support women, miracles indeed happens.
Later, I went all the way to the Hon’ble High Court at Calcutta seeking justice. But it’s not appropriate to write about the legal procedures and outcomes here. I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the ladies of my workplace. I owe a lot to all of you. The state administrative machinery is known to be a typical male bastion with very less participation of female. Yet, if we, the lady officers, come together and lend our support to each other, we can be a force to reckon with.


About the Author

Swagata Tarafdar

An engineer by education, I am a civil servant by profession. A doting mother. An avid reader. I try my hand at writing as and when ideas tussle inside my head. read more...

41 Posts | 174,534 Views

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