Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao region has become the state’s first district with an all-woman team heading the administrative apparatus, a rare success story in a country racked by rampant gender discrimination and inequality.
When 2008-batch IPS officer Neha Pandey was assigned as the area’s police superintendent at the weekend, she filled the last remaining void in the female-only lineup holding the reins of the district that is grappling with a grim litany of sexual attacks against women.
“You could say the quorum is complete with the appointment of the new SP; it was the only position that a woman wasn’t holding,” said district magistrate Saumya Agarwal. “This all-woman chain won’t change anything for us. Our focus will be entirely on keeping up the good work,” she added.
Apart from Pandey and Agarwal, the 12-member squad comprises zila panchayat head Sangeeta Sengar, chief development officer Sandeep Kaur, chief medical officer Greta Yadav as well as road transport officer Mala Bajpai.
Jasjeet Kaur and Archana Dwivedi are the sub-divisional magistrates, while Sherry Masood is the child development project officer and Shruti Shukla the district probation officer.
Jyoti Chowdhary looks after the responsibilities of mandi sachiv and Roli Gupta is the district election officer.
“It is natural that women-related issues will take centre stage. They will be effectively addressed,” said Sengar. “Communication will be a lot easier and comfort level in working will be high.”
This team’s biggest success was the way it recently conducted hassle-free panchayat elections amid simmering communal tensions in Uttar Pradesh.
Last year, international consultancy firm McKinsey said in a gender parity report that states like UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh had inequality levels similar to impoverished Chad and war-torn Yemen.
Shridhar Pathak, who recently retired as inspector general of police after 42 years in service, said he doesn’t remember women holding all key positions of administration in a district, probably in the entire country. “It is a definitely a first and a welcome one. More power to the women,” he said.