Jija Hari Singh, the sole woman DGP in the country, talks to BHAWANI CHEERATH about her Kerala connection and more
The image of the woman in khaki has been shaped by the tough-talking cop on both the big and small screen. But in reality the woman as a cop is both an ‘officer and a gentle woman.' Meet Jija Hari Singh, a Director General of Police (Home Guards) from Karnataka, and you realise the glass ceiling has slid open for the determined.
A rare visitor to her home state, Kerala, Dr. Jija has a warm smile when she says: “Yes I grew up in this city. A major part of my schooling was done in the Holy Angels' Convent here and parts of it in a Government school in Sreekaryam and in Palakkad too.”
When Jija speaks of the major influences in her life, it is her father, T. K. Madhavan, she remembers. He developed her interest in playwrights, authors and thinkers, from Shakespeare, Gorky, Tolstoy to Carlyle, “in a very casual sort of way,” she adds. His unique way of thinking is evident in the manner he shifted his daughter from the Convent to a Malayalam medium school, “just to experience the schooling in such a setting. And I coped with the change. These sorts of experiences made the difference in me.”
Following graduation and post-graduation in English from University College and journalism course at Press Club, her next stop was Indian Space Research Organisation. “A job it was, but there was nothing much to do. I soon discovered a collection of books and journals in a room. I started reading and putting things in place, which in a way was to keep myself occupied,” she explains.
Not one to be complacent with what comes her way, Jija moved to teaching in Maharaja's College, Ernakulam, and this lover of Shakespearean plays found her mentor in Madhukar Rao. “Shakespeare was the domain of experienced teachers only, but Sir felt I could handle the paper well. I enjoyed that phase,” Dr. Jija recollects.
Ernakulam opened up the opportunity to dabble in art. As a student of well-known artist M.V. Devan at Kalapeetom, “I did a lot of model study and at the same time attended the coaching classes at Maharaja's those days and got the selection to the Indian Police Service.”
What prompted the shift to the police service? “Well, I always felt I should take up a career, but it just happened to be the police, that's all. I was not bent upon becoming a police officer, but wanted a life of adventure, challenges and learning.”
Interestingly, throughout the interview it was “adventure, challenge and service” that continued to figure in Jija Hari Singh's statements. Speaking of her opting for the service she peppers it with, “you can impact society and of course the police could do with some gentle and soft persons too.”
Starting with her first posting as the Assistant Superintendent of Police (Research), which was not too demanding, Jija found herself sent on an assignment to study how Kiran Bedi, her senior, was performing as a Police Superintendent.
That's when the question about ‘soft postings' for women in the Police pops up.
Jija has a matter of fact explanation for this. “The selection per se is gender blind. Often it is a situation where the administration and the establishment lack the confidence to entrust a woman with a tough posting. Moreover it is not as if only women get soft postings, men also get their share of soft postings.”
Catalyst for change
In over three decades, this 1975 batch officer from the IPS is content with the fact that the service becomes a catalyst for change and as the only woman DGP in the country, she recognises the patriarchal and conventional style of functioning and has learnt to convert even the dullest assignment into a “glorious lake of lotuses.”
Jija Hari Singh who has had stints with the Airports Authority of India, Hotel Corporation of India, Karnataka State Police Housing Corporation and the Mysore Minerals Ltd. does not allow anything disturb her equanimity.
How does she strike a balance between work and demands from the family? Art and meditation are major stress busters. Doodling and incomplete canvasses are always around to transport her into a state of bliss and “am able to regain my inner peace quite soon,” says this mother of two daughters.
Tanjore paintings and abstracts in oil, she dabbles in both. While working on Tanjore paintings, she chants. Jija finds that it helps her in two ways – to concentrate on the work and the vibes calm her nerves. Reading is her other way to unwind be it with a Paulo Coelho, an Arundhati Roy or Nandan Nilekani's Imagining India.
Any favourite postings?
After so many decades in service and having reached the top, this recipient of the Dheera Mahila award is still identified as, “SP Chitradurga” where she successfully held out against the matka gangs and the language agitation.
What then is her mantra for success?“You have the power and a job to serve. Do it well.”