English author Virginia Woolf famously said, “For most of history, anonymous was a woman.” In India, a 28-year-old woman, Durga Shakti Nagpal, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from the Northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is creating history by taking on the powerful men in the Indian bureaucracy and government. Dhanya Nair on a rare heroine.
The young officer unflinchingly took action against corruption and launched a massive drive against powerful and illegal sand mining within her jurisdiction. She was later suspended by the state government for allegedly demolishing an illegal mosque wall. Within days Nagpal has become a symbol of India’s anger against politicians and a system that gives people only two choices: to bend or break. Her suspension for allegedly taking on the politically well-connected sand-mining dons, backed by powerful real estate barons, has stirred the country and made the young woman a crusader who dared to stride where others feared.
Nagpal has become a symbol of India’s anger against politicians and a system that gives people only two choices: to bend or break.
Nagpal isn’t the first Indian government officer to be transferred on a whim by a powerful politician. It is indeed a common phenomenon in Indian bureaucracy; in fact according to a Harvard Business School study the average tenure of an IAS officer is just 14 months. Needless to say, she is facing the wrath of the powerful people she challenged. A local politician, Narendra Bhati (who will be contesting the upcoming Lok Sabha elections), was happily boasting for getting Nagpal transferred within 41 minutes while several other politicians are mocking the young women.
This episode (once again) highlights the rampant criminality prevalent in Indian politics. Politics and religion have always gone hand in hand and given India’s vast religious diversity; religious differences have often been used in politics. Vote bank politics i.e. giving political support to issues for the sole purpose of gaining the votes of members of a particular community is all too common. In this case too, Nagpal was given the suspension when she launched her crackdown against the powerful mining mafia. The State’s chief minister gave the entire episode a religious hue by justifying the suspension, blaming Nagpal “for mishandling a situation that could have led to communal tension”. But on ground zero, there have been no signs of a potential communal tension.
While the theatre of the absurd continues, Durga has emerged as a cause célèbre in India’s dynamic social media yet has touched a strong chord with the middle class. The growing Indian middle class is no longer happy to sit quietly and Durga has become a heroine for them. They are vociferously supporting her in social media. Within four days, her Facebook page has already got over 5,500 followers. An overwhelming support and it is just the start.
Goddess Durga of the Hindu pantheon is worshiped as the indestructible
Interestingly, Goddess Durga of the Hindu pantheon is worshiped as the indestructible while Shakti means ultimate power. With such a powerful name, the young Durga Shakti Nagpal has shown that she is living up to her name and is creating history. Invariably she has become an inspiration and a well-deserved one at that.