Talking women’s safety in Manipal and menstruation: A conversation with the DC
UDUPI: On a particularly busy afternoon, The Manipal Journal caught up with the Deputy Commissioner of Udupi, Hephsiba Rani Korlapati, IAS, as she sat down for a conversation about women-related issues in Udupi and Manipal and its solutions, women empowerment, and breaking the stigma around menstruation.
Deputy Commissioner, Additional Deputy Commissioner, CEO of Zila Panchayat, and Superintendent of Police (SP) – the top four posts in Udupi are held by women, which has made Udupi a unique district. Is this a new beginning of an era of powerful women in administrative positions of India?
After Nisha James was appointed as the SP, Udupi district is headed by a team of four women, and for me, it is a very good coincidence. As a team, for us to work together and deliver our best is a great opportunity. I will not say that it is a case where women have suddenly ascertained administrative positions. However, it is a new development that has happened and we will do our best.
In 2018, a sexual harassment campaign was done by The Manipal Journal, where we collected anecdotes of various female students who shared their experiences of sexual harassment in Manipal. The most common areas where these incidents happened were near the university, like the road near RSB Bhavan or Kamath Circle. Being a student town, the security of female students is to be taken care of in Manipal. What will your steps be for the same?
I am not aware of this issue since I have recently joined. I have to check what initiatives were or are being taken to resolve this issue on behalf of the district administration. We will have to coordinate with the police department and see if some quick action can be taken. For all youngsters, I think that a high level of sensitivity and responsibility is required. We could have a campaign to mould the youth to be more gender-sensitive. One thing I have observed is that they do not abide by the traffic rules. We have a lot of rules and laws, and Udupi is a place where we have a relatively educated population who can try and adopt these rules by practising them.
In your previous interviews, you have mentioned that you noticed that a lot of security cameras in Udupi are not working. This might seem like a minute detail, yet it is an important concern. Is it a part of your motive to change such minute details?
This was in a connection with the surveillance we have for election management. We had a review and took stock of the surveillance, monitoring the ongoing election. During these times, we need to ensure that our teams are functional and in place while we monitor check-posts. At the field level, we were taking stock of what system was in place when we found that some cameras which had been fitted earlier were not working. Currently, we are trying to fix it. Ultimately, when we do our work, it requires us to look at the detailing to ensure that it is effective; otherwise, we lose out on the impact of doing the entire exercise. It is a part of my job; it is my responsibility to do it.
There is a lot to be done to empower women and ensure that they come up to give the best to society. The government has set up many schemes for the betterment of women which need to be delivered effectively to women of different strata in a society who are unaware of these benefits. How do you plan to make them aware of the benefits that they can reap?
We have an educated and literate population in Udupi. When it comes to women as well, the literacy rate is on par with that of men. We need to have more campaigns, awareness programs, and camps. We have to first identify the target group of the population, to which a particular scheme can cater for. When we have a scheme and a deadline, we will certainly identify the target groups and have basic ways to reach out to them. We have to make them fall into mainstream information, where women are not.
Being a woman yourself, what are some of the top priorities – in terms of issues – to address from your perspective, and what do you think is an ideal approach to tackling these issues?
Working women face many issues. Just the other day I was discussing this with a lady colleague. When we are in the office we have to ensure that our family is taken care of, and our office is taken care of more. We have it as a bigger challenge than men do because there is always the question of whether women will do as well as men. There is always a benchmark or comparison that you have to be as good as or equal to men. In this context, working women have to rise to the expectations of society, their colleagues, and also face the challenges of taking care of their family and children. It is not something that can be delegated to somebody. A mother cannot train anybody to raise her child. It becomes a task that one cannot imagine.
I saw an article in The Guardian or another media website, where they spoke about periods and stated that the pain that women undergo during menstruation is actually more than that of a heart attack – twice or more. Women actually go through more pain without expressing or pointing it out. We have a natural way of bearing pain and coming up with solutions to deliver our best – it is an advantage that we have, being multitaskers. Whatever the situation is, I think that women will always have an extra spine and the willpower to do their best. It is very difficult to be a working woman. When you are at the office, the working space has to accept that women are equal to men. With officers too, there is a distinction between the boss and the subordinates. It is a very patriarchal setup that we live in. After I got married, I saw headlines in newspapers that said ‘Udupi DC marries Ujjwal Kumar Ghosh’. There, it was mainly because of gender and marriage is generally a one-sided thing for most women in our country – it is not balanced.
Women in responsible positions – or any woman, those without offices as well – can inspire and motivate people. Even on my Facebook wall, I have a post dating back to November about a lady who cleans public toilets. I happened to bump into her one day, and the toilets she cleaned were the tidiest ones I have seen. I took a picture with her and she explained how she did her job, with a lot of happiness. With her, there was a sense of hygiene, dedication, and responsibility. People like her can also inspire us – be it your mom, who is working or my mom, coming from a small village. She inspired me and gave me an aspiration to live towards. In the end, it is how we give and take inspiration – because it is all around us.
The current state of menstrual cycle knowledge, hygiene, and sanitation in India are in an unfavourable state. Only 18 per cent of the women population of India seem to have proper knowledge about it, and talking about it is still considered taboo in many places. Do you think such information should be made a part of the school curriculum so as to educate people about it right from a young age?
Naturally, menstruation is a biological process. We are all the same, and this cannot be a reason for us to be distinguished – unless it is for the better, where we are seen as people who go through pain yet are capable of delivering their best. The statistic that you have mentioned must belong to the last decade, where awareness of this topic was not present, and it should improve. Women should talk about it too. Like I tell people, every woman goes through the pain every month without complaining, and the ecosystem lives on this process. We are the ones that procreate, and this brings some women joy. Sindhu, my batchmate and the CEO of the Zila Panchayat is a mother, and the challenges she faces and the way she handles situations is much more complex and encouraging.
Featured Image Courtesy: Mridul Kalra
Edited by: Disha Acharya