From fighting crime to air pollution: The women who keep Delhi running

A look at women who call the shots in traditional male bastions. From a green energy warrior at the forefront of the capital’s fight against pollution to a principal who has to tame the most rowdy set of students, these women are instrumental in keeping Delhi in order and thriving.

delhi Updated: Mar 08, 2018 14:26 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, Delhi
Delhi,Women,Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital
L-R: Dr Puneeta Mahajan, DCP Aslam Khan, Varsha Joshi, Swapna Liddle and Rama(HT Photo)


Dr Puneeta Mahajan works hard to provide better maternal and child care in Delhi

Dr Puneeta Mahajan’s mantra of hard work with sincerity and compassion has held her in good stead both at home and work. “These are the values that I was brought up with. I try to serve patients with a smile, even when the hospital is crowded,” says Dr Mahajan, medical director, Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital. Choosing to study biology decided that she would go on to become a doctor. Dr Mahajan vividly remembers the day she cleared MBBS entrance exam. She was at her home with her father, while her mother took the day off from work and drove across the city in heavy rains to go to Delhi University to check the list. “My mother drove through waterlogged streets; there was water inside the car when she came back. That left a mark on me,” said Mahajan. She did her MBBS from Lady Hardinge Medical College and her postgraduation from Safdarjung Hospital.

Her husband, who is an anaesthetist at private hospital, and his family are equally supportive.

The two changes that she would like to see in Delhi are fewer pregnancy complications and childbirth deaths, and safety of women everywhere.

While she can do little to reduce the number of minors coming to her hospital with tell-tale signs of rape, she is working to provide better maternal and child care.

The hospital has one of the best labour rooms in a public hospital where mothers are offered a calm environment with cheerful paintings and soothing music.

At workplace, Dr Mahajan feels no different from her male colleagues and has never faced insubordination. “Initially, there might have been negative currents, but that did not obstruct my work,” she said.

She also motivated her team to provide better services and getting an NABH (National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers) accreditation — a certification for quality services given to hospitals. “This is Delhi government’s only accredited 500-bed hospital,” she said with pride. Dr Mahajan wants to give back to the people of Delhi after she retires in three years.

How DCP Aslam Khan cracked a gang-rape case five years after Nirbhaya

When Aslam Khan took over as the deputy commissioner of police, Delhi’s north-west district last November, she was taken aback on being addressed as ‘sir’. Khan’s unusual name, her demeanour and the “muscle memory” of the officers drew the unusual prefix.

It was the first time in nearly six years that the district was being helmed by a woman officer and Khan came in with the reputation of a strict and upright officer.

She had barely settled into the job — mostly marked for male IPS officers — when she found herself handling a crime that has been a constant nightmare for the police. On the fifth anniversary of the Nirbhaya gang-rape case, a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped by three men in a park in her district.

“We seemed lucky early on into the probe. One of the 2,000 suspects claimed he was around when his friends raped the child. But I realised he was only trying to frame his enemies. I refused to arrest him and continued the hunt,” recounts Khan.

Police nabbed the three suspects 20 days later, but it won Khan the respect and loyalty of her officers.

Born in a family of farmers in a village in Rajasthan, it was a unique situation that got the officer christened as ‘Aslam’ — a name usually reserved for men. “My parents were expecting a boy and they had even decided the name. So they went ahead with the same when I was born,” recounts Khan. Khan’s father ensured she received the best possible education; she topped the political science stream in her graduation.

Be it getting a scooty or more pocket money, Khan did not lose out to her two younger brothers. When she landed in Delhi to prepare for civil services, she befriended Pankaj Singh, current DCP of Delhi Metro. Khan cracked the UPSC exam in 2007 and Singh a year later, before the two got married.

Along with the job came the usual sexist barbs. She remembers being constantly told to prove herself harder than her male colleagues. “Bureaucracy reinforces the Indian traditional system that discriminates against women and people belonging to lower castes,” says Khan.

“I have nothing at stake. I do not fear getting transferred. I stand by what is right,” says Khan about what drives her. She will not take her job and associated privileges for granted. “I drive a secondhand Maruti Ritz during my visits to my hometown and travel in auto-rickshaws,” says Khan.

When she leaves the police force, Khan plans to start an orphanage for girls. “I will give financial freedom and freedom of choice to those girls,” says Khan.

Varsha Joshi reveals why she stands out in the ‘male dominated’ sectors of power and transport

As the head of Delhi’s transport and power departments, Varsha Joshi is at the forefront of the Capital’s fight against pollution. Under her tenure, the Delhi government brought out the city’s solar policy, and soon a unified parking policy for the Capital will be out, apart from a separate set of rules for taxis and junk vehicles.

She has been a green energy warrior since her days in the ministry for new and renewable energy (MNRE). She broke several barriers to introduce India’s first wind prediction system in Tamil Nadu and set the ball rolling for bidding in the wind industry.

A 1995 batch IAS officer, Joshi started her career as an SDM in Delhi. A single mother, she finished her Master’s in Physics from DU’s Hindu College and ranked 10th in UPSC-CSE exam.

Joshi says that deep domain knowledge and trust of her colleagues are what makes her stand out in two of the “extremely male dominated sectors of power and transport”.

“Everyone assumes they know more than you. And then, they try to talk you down. We should know that it becomes a male thing because there just happen to be more men in the sector. There is no other reason,” she says.

But, she asserts, having domain knowledge is a must. “You can’t shoot in the dark. You have to understand the core principles. You have to make it clear that you know what you are talking about. At the same time, you should know when the other person is talking bullshit.”

Apart from MNRE, Joshi also fondly remembers her stint at the Census of India. “I was part of the core team for digitisation of census data. It was like creating history of sorts because of the sheer volume of data. But, that’s the beauty of India and I am proud of it,” she said.

Joshi have always found space for what she loves doing since her childhood. “When I was 4 or 5, I was fascinated by the designs of offices and houses. I used to make offices and houses while my friends played,” she says.

Putting her life philosophy in context, she shares an incident from her days in SDM office. “During a dowry related inquest, I found that it was a suicide and did not register a case. However, the victim’s relatives tried to pressure me and when I didn’t relent, I was transferred. My successor filed a case but the court threw it out. I was vindicated.” “I don’t fight battles I can’t win,” she says.

How Swapna Liddle rose through the ranks to head INTACH

Her father was an Indian Police Service officer and mother was a trained teacher, who always wanted her daughter to become a bureaucrat. However, the daughter aspired to become a history teacher.

Pressing family issues compelled Swapna Liddle to shelve her plan. Nevertheless, she took to her childhood passion albeit in a different manner.

“Heritage walks are another way of teaching history beyond textbooks and conventional settings like closed classrooms,” says Liddle, convener of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) Delhi chapter.

Though she has been associated with INTACH since 2006, she was leading walks for the Trust, but joined it formally after four years.

Within six years of her joining, she rose through the ranks and became the second woman convener in October 2016 after Malvika Singh. It was after the gap of 29 years when a woman was nominated to lead the prestigious institution.

So far, Liddle has organised around 150 walks covering almost all major heritage sites.

Liddle is one among few women city historians, who has been spearheading heritage awareness and conservation of historic structures in the national capital for more than a decade.

Apart from editing others’ work, she has authored two books — ‘Delhi; 14 Historic Walks’ and ‘Chandni Chowk: The Mughal City of Old Delhi’. Her new book on New Delhi will be released soon.

Liddle has also been instrumental to make legal interventions in the form of public interest litigations or campaigns to protect heritage structures, which are on the verge of extinction. In her legal fight for conservation, she is supported by her lawyer husband.

She considered herself ‘fortunate’ to get the support of family, friends and colleagues in her journey to pursue her passion. “I have been very lucky. I got good education. I have supportive parents and husband. I was never discriminated or faced gender issues in my working sphere or at workplace. They have all been very friendly,” she adds.

Rama, the first woman principal of Hansraj College

Thirty-four years before she was chosen to run Hansraj College, 16-year-old Rama convinced her father in 1981 to allow her to continue with her studies by promising that she will finance her own education.

Rama was the second of the five children born to a home-maker mother and a military officer father.

Rama, the acting principal of the college since 2015, is the first woman to be holding the position since the college was established in 1948. When Rama took admission in Delhi University for pursuing an undergraduate course in Hindi, she started taking part in debate competition, eyeing on the cash prize and also due to her love for a good argument.

“I won 850 prizes in debate, extra-curricular activities and poetry competitions in five years of doing undergraduate and postgraduate at DU,” says Rama, who does not use her last name.

Rama, who studied journalism after college, worked in different media houses before taking up a job as a teacher in a school. “I later joined Hansraj in 1991 and was appointed as the officiating principal in 2015,” she says.

But when Rama was offered the position, she wasn’t sure whether she will be able to do it. However, “she overcame her doubts and took up the role,” she says.

The biggest challenge was to maintain discipline in the college, whose proximity to Kamla Nagar market, had resulted into frequent bunking by students.

Also, the college used to have frequent protest by different students’ political groups.

“My first few months were spent in ensuring that students attended their classes. I took rounds of classes every day. There used to be sloganeering by political groups but I started talking to them and that helped in resolving issues faster,” she says.

As the administrative head, Rama had her fair share of people trying to pull her down. “The male teachers in the college were used to saying ‘sir’… it took them a while to say ‘yes ma’am’,” she says.

According to Rama, it is not easy for people to accept women in position of power because they are not used to it. “But the key is hard work and ignoring the detractors,” she says.

(Anonna Dutt, Shiv Sunny, Sweta Goswami, Parvez Sultan, Heena Kausar)

First Published: Mar 08, 2018 14:19 IST