Comment

The missing postwomen

The Prime Minister has publicly stated that his government will give priority to women, especially physically challenged women, while providing government jobs in rural areas. But sadly, the Department of Post seems to still have a 19th century mindset.

A dismal track record

Village post offices all over the country are crying for want of attention. They are characterised by low morale, poor monetary incentives and a hierarchical management system that dates back to pre-Independence times. In the age of computers, emails and the Internet, the village postman is still highly respected. Nothing can replace face-to-face contact. He writes letters for illiterate mothers to their sons serving in the border areas and makes sure these letters are posted. He delivers money through money orders to poor families at their doorstep. Where else in the world do you have a letter delivered every day by hand in 6,00,000 villages? This happens only in India.

However, the Department of Post still has very few village postwomen. Out of the 1.3 lakh post offices in rural areas, including the 24,000 sub post offices located in villages with a population between 5,000 and 10,000, one can count the number of postwomen on one hand. And to be sure, there are no physically challenged women posted in rural areas. This dismal situation needs to be rectified. The Minister for Communications must ask the Secretary of the Department of Post why India has such a dismal track record and rectify it.

In February 2020, such an attempt was made. The Secretary of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment wrote on February 10, 2020 to the Secretary of the Department of Post requesting that well-trained physically challenged women be allowed to run the Aadhaar Enrolment Centres. In a letter dated February 19, the Secretary of the Department of Post replied that no “outsourced agent” can operate Aadhaar Enrolment Centres. It was forbidden by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to outsource these jobs, he said, so he was helpless. When a Member of the Postal Board was approached to speak to the Secretary, he said there was no point.

On May 21, 2020, UIDAI sent a notification to the Secretary of the Department of Post that read: “UIDAI do not have any objection if DoP either appoints Divyang on its roll or hire them from any manpower outsourcing agency for carrying Aadhaar enrolment/ update work in post offices subject to availability of DoP official as verifier at the centre.”

Despite this notification, he remained unmoved. Further, the Director General of Post sent a circular asking other senior postal officers whether this would be a wise move. The Department of Post seems to really need a crash course on gender sensitivity.

Unexplained resistance

It is the end of September; yet the Secretary of the Department of Post has not issued any orders for physically challenged rural women to operate the Aadhaar Enrolment Centres. The sub-post office in the village of Tilonia in Ajmer district of Rajasthan has an Aadhaar Centre. A qualified physically challenged woman is ready to operate the Aadhaar Centre. But it has been many months now and there seems to be great resistance from the Department of Post to break this glass ceiling. Can the Minister please personally intervene?

When in doubt, set up a Committee. The mandate of this Committee should be to explore the practical possibilities of immediately hiring the daughters, some physically challenged, of village postmen who have retired or are about to retire looking for employment and security. That would indeed be a great achievement for the Department of Post.

Bunker Roy is the Founder Director of the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Ajmer District Rajasthan

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 8:29:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-missing-postwomen/article32717851.ece

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