The Raj Hangover of Sarkari Sahibs

Published: 08th March 2016 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th March 2016 10:48 PM   |  A+A-

The Raj left India more than 60 years ago, but a number of Indians still carry it around with them. Their clubs, their schools and their networks formed an entire ghetto of privilege that makes it unnecessary to see the world out there. Some of it makes for amusing anecdotes, like the university professor who always carried an open umbrella because “it must be raining somewhere in England” (!). The brown sahib is still not uncommon but it really is the sarkari sahib who carries on with some of the less pleasant practices of the old days. The servant, the batman, sahayak, office assistant, whatever you choose to call them, is one of the hangovers of imperial days. In these republican times, no government employee is required to perform anything more than the assigned duties.

But anyone with an uncle in the army or police might remember seeing jawans or constables chopping vegetables or washing clothes or watering the boss’ lawn. Dispatch riders, by definition an elite unit, are often used to carry dispatches of a domestic nature, including groceries. Some people, according to former Madras High Court judge K Chandru, are even treated as bonded labour. In this context, there is nothing surprising, deplorable though it is, to read about Sathyamangalam sub-judge D Selvam issuing a memo to his assistant Vasanthi for not washing the household’s clothes properly. The memo reprimands her for showing disgust at the task, a very proper sentiment for someone hired as an office assistant. She is a government servant not the judge’s personal servant but that does not seem to register in his mind, nor that he is violating procedure, protocol and rules. He is her superior so she must do whatever he says.

This abuse of power is probably systemic. The memo’s tone indicates that the judge considers it normal practice. It is a reflection on the abuser, for how can a judge guilty of such flagrant malpractice be expected to deliver justice? Suggestions such as compensatory allowances have been made, but who can say the cash won’t be pocketed and the abuse continued? There is only one way to deal with this. Unfortunately, these people are the guardians of the system, so there’s precious chance that they will ever feel the weight of retribution.


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