Whenever I think of ‘challenge’, I think of our Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi & how he turned the challenge of oppression and discrimination in South Africa into an opportunity. He gave political resistance a new name and he so rightly said, “First, they ignore you then they ridicule you then they fight with you and then you win.”
India and the world today, face an unprecedented challenge, a crisis of having been inflicted by a pandemic caused by what is called, COVID-19. It has affected us all in many ways. It has caused irreparable destruction, loss of lives. It has taken a toll on our mental health, a toll on economies and thrown governments and societies out of gear, how to deal with it. It is compelling us to face an economic crisis, but have we succumbed to this?
Have we given up and said that “Okay, whatever happens, we’ll see.” No ! We have not given up. We have not given up at all.
We are striving to explore, to experiment, to analyse and find a way out of this. And I’m certain that we shall surely overcome.
For posterity, 2020 shall be registered as a year when humanity was faced with its worst crisis
ever, when human resilience was put to severe strains, when the lines between life and death turned the thinnest ever, when rich and poor alike lived in constant fear and agony and when lives became fragile and brittle. 2020 shall also go down in the annals of history as a period when humankind rose to the occasion and negotiated the challenges with gut and gumption.
If we look at the evolution of humanity, it is filled with stories of courage, determination, conviction, and humankind’s ability to rise to challenges.
Our ability to give wings to ourselves, wings to our aspirations is one of the most defining features. In fact, rising to challenges is integral to human beings, and part of the way we live and negotiate with our lives. It should be so, always.
We all have witnessed during Covid-19 Pandemic, how children continued to learn online, examples of how offices ran virtually, examples of how we did not travel yet our work never stopped and perhaps the arrival of digital as the single most transformational experience for all of us.
Covid-19 has enabled us to bridge the gap between physical & digital. It also increased the awareness about digital technology and not only youngsters but even the elderly have resorted to learning skills online and using digital devices. It has made all of us see the advancements in the health sector & how as a society we have collectively responded to the issue.
Sensitizing relationships has become of prime importance, mental health has become a matter being discussed often. Offices have started doctors on call & counselings made available for employees well-being.
Even Govt organizations at various levels across different states have changed the way in delivery of governance, especially due to the restrictions imposed by Covid-19 Protocol. Relentless efforts have been put by front-line Corona warriors. If I share about Gurugram, where I was till recently posted, there was a challenge of catering to a multitude of diverse populations coming from different backgrounds and having variant needs. There was a challenge in initial times & non-clarity; but as we started working as teams, things started getting stabilized. Organisations based in Gurugram molded themselves so as to incorporate resources and measures to deal & help people during the crisis. Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA), transformed its Integrated Command and Control Centre (ICCC) into a ‘war room’ for surveillance of the lockdown rules. The objective wasn't just to monitor the Coronavirus lockdown exercises, but also for supporting other government organisations, for example, MCG, food and supplies, health dept, and police etc. On the other hand, Gurugram Metropolitan City Bus (GMCBL), adapted some of its buses to ‘Mobile Grocery Shops’ for supplying essential food items to the local residents and ‘Mobile Sample Collection Bus for Covid-19 Testing’ for transporting Covid-19 patients and medical teams.
Now if I talk a little about myself, I have experienced many challenges, first as a student, and then becoming a professional & as an IAS officer.
I come from a small town called Panipat in Haryana. While Haryana has so many positives to its credit, we also have had the Issue of being a state which has been predominantly patriarchal, has had neglected its girl child and had an adverse child sex ratio as per 2011 census. The societal ecosystem expects the females to be performing traditional roles of being a housewife, or at the maximum, undertake jobs which allows them to justify the domestic front fully.
Similar was the reality expected for me, but I am thankful and fortunate I was born to a father who was very progressive who thought ahead of his time. Our parents allowed us - me and my siblings - the flexibility to choose a calling of our own. My parents helped me to explore a different reality, and be a change maker! Their support has been the reason, how I challenged the prevailing societal family ecosystem & I became the first one in my family to have joined civil services, and despite me being CS LLB, I shifted from the corporate sector to government to serve the nation and society. Also I am fortunate, my husband & kids have been very supportive and they understand my professional compulsions.
Since I Joined Service, I have realized, In real life most of the times as Administrator, you don’t get situations as u expect, but those moments become pillars of your life and you learn to rise above the challenge. There are a lot of dynamics & equations that ultimately affect our working & decision making, however rather than giving up, it is always important to Stand Upright and give your honest efforts with conviction & determination.
For my 1st posting in 2010, I was posted as SDM Ambassa in Dhalai District Tripura. A predominantly tribal Village Maldapara was one of the remotest villages of sub-division and there were issues of connectivity. Through regular intervention of administration, with active support of BSF & youth there, we could mobilize the working of departments like school, AWC, PHC etc. Similar initiatives continued when I was ADM & Collector.
I am also keen to share another experience of Faridabad city, which is the largest & oldest Municipal Corporation of Haryana where I was posted as Commissioner. Faridabad came out with an innovative plan of ‘Citizen Participation for city development’, (‘Sab Ke Saath Se Shehar Ka Vikas’). Under the plan, all the stakeholders representatives of city development including the industrial associations, civil society organizations, RWAs, schools, colleges, and citizens are being involved to address the needs of Faridabad.
Due to the citizen inclusive model, Faridabad has been able to take a lead amongst the flagship programmes of Government of India which include ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ and was also selected as first city from Haryana under ‘SMART Cities Mission’ of MOUD GOI.
Many people do ask me also whether I feel any prejudice or bias or challenge as a woman Administrator; is there any discrimination wrt role as male & female bureaucrat? I would say from my last 12 years of experience in Govt, that there is no such inherent bias against women administrators, but yes there are certain issues which I would rather say occupational hazards revolving more around women than men. I feel that still, certain postings are considered more appropriate to be headed by male officers preferably. There is always a doubt of the people in the ecosystem around women, in your work delivery capabilities & commitments, compelling you to keep on proving yourself constantly. Many-a-times for lady officers, their career and family life progress is not in tandem and may rather be non-harmonious with each other. But it is the act of balance, which matters.
Nevertheless, efforts to bring in ‘Gender Parity’ in society should be taken by all. I would like to share a few initiatives taken during my postings at Tripura and Haryana.
During my posting as SDM Ambassa, Tripura in 2010, an all women polling station was set up during the elections to urban local bodies, in which along with lady polling personnel, lady police officials were deployed. As DM & Collector Gomati District, initiative ‘Nandini’ was adopted. ‘Nandini’ has been focusing on initiatives under BBBP for protection & promotion of welfare of girl child & women in the district.
Moving further, I would like to share a few instances/ initiatives taken in District Jhajjar Haryana. To address the issue of droupouts of adolscent girls from schools, due to the issue of menstrual hygiene, an Initiative- Umang Ek Pehel was undertaken. It was a convergence initiative between SSA, HSRLM & WCD departments where sanitary napkins produced by SHG women were being distributed among adolescent girls at govt schools. The District Administration attempted addressing social evils like dowry prohibition, parda pratha, reducing female foeticide etc. through launch of campaign ‘Soch pe dastak’ through ‘Nari Ki Choupal- Mann Ki Baat’ in panchayats, with special focus on GPs with low Sex ratio. Jaagriti Project was launched in Rohtak & Jhajjar in collaboration with UNICEF, with 4 components focused on Gender Disparity.
From my own example I can share that I became the Ist lady CEO/ Commissioner of AMC Agartala Municipal Council in 2012 & the Ist lady DM of Gomati District Tripura in 2014 & 1st CEO Of FSCL Faridabad Smart City Ltd in 2016 & at the 1st Lady CEO of GMCBL City Bus Service Gurugram.
Challenges are here to stay. How we choose to look at challenges and failures will determine the outcome of our lives. We must learn to study our struggles, failures, and weaknesses & try to overcome them. Whatever profession/ career we may choose, try to help the people around you and contribute to society & nation’s development, as a responsible citizen.
As Swami Vivekananda rightly said-
All power is within you; you can do anything & everything. Believe in that and do not believe that you are weak. Stand up and express the divinity within you.
Just remember - The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor can a human be perfected without trials. Do not be afraid of failures, face them and rise to the challenge !
Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your own limits!
Sonal Goel IAS