Bihar IAS officer regrets condom barb after minister fact-checks her, NCW notice
Back in 2015, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar announced a scheme for distribution of free sanitary pads in government schools. But its implementation has been patchy
PATNA: Harjot Kaur Bhamra, the senior Bihar official who is seen rebuking a school girl in a video of an event for seeking free sanitary pads, on Thursday expressed regret for her response that sparked a sharp backlash on and off social media.
“I express regret if my words hurt any girl’s sentiments. I didn’t intend to humiliate anyone or hurt anyone’s sentiments, said the 1992 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer posted as managing director of Bihar’s Women Development Corporation in a statement on Thursday.
At a state-level workshop organised in collaboration with UNICEF on Tuesday, the girl referred to the many doles such as free bicycles and school uniforms given by the government and asked the government consider giving free sanitary pads to girls as well. Bhamra shot back at the young teenager, saying there was no end to such freebies. “The government is already giving a lot. Today you want a packet of napkins for free. Tomorrow you may want jeans and shoes and, later, when the stage comes for family planning, you may demand free condoms as well,” Bhamra said, adding that such people should go to Pakistan.
Bhamra’s statement of regret two days later came after a barrage of criticism mostly directed at her over her comeback to the young school girl who sought government assistance for the state’s teenage girls to buy sanitary pads. The National Commission for Women also sent her notice and a Bihar minister fact-checked her, asserting that everything that the young girl was asking for was already covered by government schemes.
“All the things that the girls were demanding are already being given by the Government. The provisions of separate toilets for girls, sanitary pad vending machines and ₹300 for purchasing the materials are being implemented,” social welfare minister Madan Sahni said.
To be sure, chief minister Nitish Kumar announced the scheme for free sanitary pads in government schools after he returned to power in 2015. But the implementation has been patchy.
According to a study, the drop-out rate of girls in India when they start mensurating in school is 23%, and absenteeism is over 20% of the school year.
In her Thursday evening statement, Bhamra, an additional chief secretary rank officer, said “my intentions were not wrong”.
“I express regret if my words hurt any girl’s sentiments. I didn’t intend to humiliate anyone or hurt anyone’s sentiments. The entire event was dedicated to create awareness among adolescent girls about the Government provisions for them. We wanted to motivate them to become self-dependent and confident enough to take their own decisions about life and career. It was during this discussion I asked girls to stop asking things for free,” said Bhamra in a statement issued on Thursday evening.
All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) national general secretary Meena Tiwari said Bhamra’s comments were insensitive. “She should not have advised the girl to go to Pakistan. Some people have already been using these words for vested interests,” she said.
The AIPWA official said it was time for the government to order a survey of schools that have separate toilets for girls and sanitary napkin vending machines. Besides, some women organisations have also planned a public demonstration on Friday, she added.