Telangana’s top bureaucrat Smita Sabharwal has triggered a tizzy in the officialdom by questioning the release of 11 convicts serving life term in the Bilkis Bano gang rape case by the Gujarat government. The officer in the Chief Minister’s Office took to social media and initially shared a newspaper cartoon on August 18 morning, showing disquiet at the state of affairs in the country.
An hour later on the same day, she shared Bilkis Bano’s public statement with her comment: “As a woman and a civil servant I sit in disbelief, on reading the news on the #BilkisBanoCase. We cannot snuff out her Right to breathe free without fear, again and call ourselves a free nation. #JusticeForBilkisBano (sic).”
The officer who is seen as close to the ruling Telangana Rastra Samiti administration received flak for her stance with trolls indulging in whataboutery. Not one to take things lying down, Ms. Sabharwal raised the stakes by invoking Sahir Ludhianvi’s ‘ jinhe Naaz hai Hind par woh kahan hai (where are the people who are proud of the country?)’.
The next day, she took to social media questioning the civil service rule curbing the freedom of expression of Indian Administrative Service officials. “On the same note, is it not time to Ungag us, the #civilservice. We give the best years of our life, learning and unlearning our pride that is #India. We are informed stakeholders… then Why this?? #FreedomOfSpeech (sic).” She wrote sharing screenshots from the service book.
Surprisingly, there has been widespread support for the officer after she raised the issue of freedom of expression.
On Thursday, the officer invoked ‘High Ethical Standards’ clause from ‘All India Services (Conduct) Rules-1968 demanding that the Department of Personnel & Training Act in the Bilkis Bano case. It remains to be seen who is likely to blink first.