COUNTED among the more progressive states where women have broken the glass ceiling in fields ranging from finance to manufacturing, Maharashtra, in its 58 years of statehood, has never had a woman chief secretary or a director general of police — two key posts in the state’s administrative and policing machinery . While candidates have often not met the “eligibility” and “seniority” criteria, the consensus across the spectrum among serving and retired women officers in the police and bureaucracy is that “a lack of political will” has kept this glass ceiling unbroken. A couple of decades ago, even a district collector post was rare for women IAS officials. “Woman have had to raise their voice to get a field posting. Sharvari Gokhale was one of the earliest examples. She had raised her voice to become the collector of Kolhapur in the 1980s,” said Malini Shankar, Director General,
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Shipping, in the Union Ministry for Shipping. Woman IAS officers claim they are “conscious and aware” of the past. “The women IAS officers between 1950-70 were feisty. They had to be accepted by the government, their family and even their counterparts. The ego issues with male counterparts might be reduced now but political prejudice is still an endless fight,” said one IAS official. “Fundamentally they don’t like women in power,” said another senior woman official, adding that the “reason is different from the method” adopted by the state government to not appoint a woman chief secretary.
Next year, Medha Gadgil, an IAS officer of the 1983 batch, presently serving as Additional Chief Secretary, Medical Education and Drugs Department, will be eligible to become the first woman chief secretary to the government of Maharashtra. Women IAS officers unanimously believe it will be a test of the Maharashtra government’s stand on gender parity. “Let’s see if the government adopts tactics such as an extension to manage time and overlook another woman official in contention for the post,” said one official.
Posts of Mumbai Police commissioner and the Mumbai municipal commissioner have also never been occupied by women. “Ultimately key posts such as municipal commissioner and police commissioners in bigger cities or even the Director General of Maharashtra police are choices not based on seniority. The Maharashtra government should exercise the choice in favour of gender equality,” said Chandra Iyengar, retired IAS officer. Another official pointed out that though there had been fewer woman IPS officers in comparison to woman IAS officials, the incumbent state government missed the bus to appoint Mumbai’s first woman police commissioner to set the record right. “Meeran Borwankar should have been the police commissioner of Mumbai. She is on central deputation and it is because of the state’s choice or discrimination, depending which side of the prism you see it from,” said an official. Rashmi Shukla, Pune Police Commissioner, a post already held by Borwankar, said postings today were allotted based on merit. “Women are more disciplined, have a sensitive attitude and give a patient hearing. Some of the important rural districts of the state, like Palghar, Jalna and Parbhani, have woman superintendents of police,” Shukla said.
When contacted, Borwankar replied via text message: “Political leadership is still quite traditional and not always comfortable with women in high sensitive positions… But once women officers showed they are as good if not better, almost all…are being posted as district police chiefs…”