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Indian Civil Services And The Flawed ‘Ideal Type’ Prototype

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When power gets legitimacy, it becomes ‘authority’. In a parliamentary democracy, this legitimacy is sanctioned by the State’s ability to fulfil constitutional goals and obligations. State uses various tools, and a structure to fulfil those responsibilities and civil services is one of them. Indian civil services have played a great role in implementing various welfare schemes. They have helped State achieve giant goals like poverty alleviation, polio eradication, and implementations of other initiatives like the Right to Information, Food Security and Right to Education, etc.

In the end, it helped Indian State gain legitimacy of what it cherishes today.

In a parliamentary democracy, a quartet of the matured political class, efficient justice system, ethical and professional bureaucracy, and free media can implement constitutional philosophy in true spirit. In India, immediately after independence, there was an imbalance in this quartet, and it still persists. Centralized policy-making, immature federal polity, and late coming of local self-governments by 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments in 1992 burdened bureaucracy, particularly engaging with the last-mile citizenry.

Civil Servants had to face the wrath of citizens for brawl and disruptions. Still, Indian civil servants played their part with the highest standards in innovations in establishing public infrastructure in health and education, conducting elections, maintaining law and order, development of tribal and backward regions, urbanization, and percolating welfare measures effectively.

From the 1980s and 1991 LPG reforms, there was a transformation in the governance structure. Union Public Services accommodated new innovations from the selection process to professional standards in administration. In all these incremental changes, Indian civil services faced deep crises of corruption and officer-political class nexus dismantling the very nobility of the “steel frame.” But overall, Indian Civil servants own the right of appreciation for standing high in the all-encompassing evolutionary nation in the making.

Today, I decided not to go in detail for the evolution, as mentioned earlier in Indian civil services. Instead, I decided to focus on two important and little tricky issues.

The ‘Ideal’ Prototype

First is becoming of Indian civil services as “ideal type” employment. It became only a “noble job” among the jobs, and officers became only “noblest child” among the children. This “Ideal type” idiom of giving supreme divinity and hallmark of patriotism to humans and their duties is itself against the “Steel Frame” philosophy. Hard exams, rigorous training, and a highly responsible work profile made only the best among all to enter in services. But ‘divinity’ and ‘ideal type’ should not be the rewards for such entries.

There are three challenges in assigning such noble divinity. First, it erodes the contemporary professional work ethos in civil services and makes it transcendental to pragmatic scrutiny in employee-employer setup. Second, it gives birth to extreme and unhealthy competition. We need to see this naïve competition from the perspective of fewer job opportunities in other sectors of the economy. Everyone curses capitalism for the consequences of unhealthy competition.

Noble ends of the serving nation can’t justify the same in case of civil service exams. The third is the rise of the coaching class industry. These institutes focus less on self-learning and create a vicious cycle where students were kept away from the true and wise analysis of their diverse opportunities. The models of these traditional ways of informal teachings with the publication of new book or notes every after two days (Though UPSC and SPCs include state and CBSE primary and secondary level) is not compatible with dynamic nature of the examination and changing nature of employment opportunity costs in the Indian employment sector. Also, there are accountability crises in these private coaching institutes.

Second is lethargy in civil servants to assist the process of decentralized participative democracy and inclusive development. There is a fundamental difference in the nature of participation of people in rural and urban areas. Problems and service delivery demands were different in rural-urban areas. Cities need clean air, efficient public transportation, health and education, clean water, and law and order.

Cities are also facing new challenges like migration, congestions and crowds, real estate sector, cybercrimes, terrorism, mental health and climate change, and unsustainable urbanization. Whereas Villages, beyond social infrastructure there is need of innovative initiatives on district levels in watershed managements, cooperative farming, youth empowerment through MSMEs, model for integrated agriculture produce an assessment for establishing a farmer-market supply chain, identifying new health issues of nutrition and maternal care, digital literacy through National Optical Fibre Network, etc.

For example, in Covid-19 situations, various state governments included agriculture in essential services. State authorities allowed APMCs to be open for the purchase of farmer produce. But, goods transportation was scrambled. Transporters were not ready to lift the produce from farmers, and those were ready, tried for rent sacking. On the other side, those we succeeded received meagre prices for produce.

Farmers were in no means to get authentic information about APMCs, and there was no one to stop rent sacking from transportation. Covid-19 is a national disaster. It is acceptable that the administration is already burdened. But the plight of farmers can be resolved if civil servants serving in rural areas would have been governing with the highest level of people’s participation.

In a nutshell, beyond recognizing their utmost service to the country and pure intentions to work for the welfare of the people, it is necessary to change the divinity and “ideal type” idiom in Indian civil services for its own sake and psychological justice to other professions in public and private employment sector. Else, it may result in unintentional and involuntary consequences in the Indian employment sector.

Urban Local Bodies gained political autonomy due to aware of people living in cities. On the other hand, Panchayat Raj Institutions were no match to those ULBs both in terms of political independence and aware citizens. Here, civil servants can fill the gap by making welfare programs as movements of decentralized participation. Till parliament doesn’t wake up for political and financial empowerment of local self-governments, civil servants, at least by involving people in program implementations, can bring inclusive and sustainable growth.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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