Be bold and humble

Pallavi Singhal
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Sumedha, after her post-graduation, worked as a lecturer of English literature for almost seven years.

Women bring sensitivity and compassion to leadership roles, believes Sumedha Kataria. "When the aggrieved come to meet a woman boss, they know they will be heard. That in itself solves 50 per cent of the problem", she says.

The fiercely independent Sumedha Kataria, known for her 'no-nonsense attitude' among juniors as well as seniors, has weathered many turmoils to achieve her present position.

Talking about her journey, she recounts how she was the sixth daughter in a family of seven. "When I was born, an astrologer had told my mother that I would not survive. My mother fought against all odds to save me, even though I was the sixth daughter."

"I cannot think of a single moment when my father or mother regretted having only daughters", she says. "Even amidst penury and deprivation, the feeling of richness our father carried was very different. He did not let any complex enter any one of us, which I don't think happens in many homes", she continues.

Citing an anecdote, she says, " I have always felt I am not beautiful in terms of a layman. When I was very young, barely 5 years, my aunt told my mom as they stood in the street, 'Teri aa kudi badi kochi hai' and though I could not understand the meaning, the tone brought tears to my eyes. But my mom, showing faith in me, said I would make her proud one day. I did not know, the meaning of that either but the support she gave me that day, continued till the very end."

All the seven sisters completed their graduation from Abohar, their hometown, and post-graduation from Panjab University. "Our father wanted us to be leaders in our field, he wanted us to be good orators and thus we were groomed like that. It was not easy, my mother sold all her all jewellery but they continued to dream of educating us further."

Sumedha, after her post-graduation, worked as a lecturer of English literature for almost seven years. "My father always wanted to become a professor but could not. I was numb when I lost him only days after I had gotten my offer letter to become a lecturer." Sumedha loved teaching and never thought she would want anything else. "It was after 5-6 years of teaching I suddenly felt I had stopped growing. I was not using my potential to the maximum, so I gave the civil services a good try", she recounts.

Life as a bureaucrat has been full of learning. "During my first posting as a BDO, I was at a village and asked for the loo. The sarpanch very hesitatingly asked his wife to guide me, and she said we go in the open. The incident shocked me. I was an officer, could go anywhere but what about this woman. It was horrifying and humiliating, unhygienic and unhealthy." It was then Sumedha found her cause and decided to work on it.
During her time as ADC Kurukshetra, she took on the challenge of making it open defecation free. After her transfer, Kurukshetra became the first rural and urban district of Haryana to become open defecation free, in 2009.

Talking about how even the most educated people have patriarchy deeply entrenched in them, she recalls how in her first posting, the DC in front of all the BDOs of Kurukshetra had claimed that he was lenient to her as she was a woman. "This was after I had missed one of his meetings. I was in tears, I felt insulted.''

The feisty officer then decided to prove her mettle. "I started doing a lot of touring... we had a family planning project. All of us were given a target to be completed by March. I completed it in September itself. The DC in another meeting then said, 'If a woman can do it, why can't you.' I again remained only a woman."

Sumedha has since come out stronger and bolder. She has organised all-woman programs during her stint as the DC. She decided not to marry and adopted a 15-year-old daughter at the age of 38. "When you become empowered, marriage becomes slightly difficult. I waited till I was 38 to find someone, but decided to adopt after that. I adopted a 15-year-old for I could not have cared for an infant. I am a workaholic."

Always be humble and bold, is her message to women. "Though I did not understand what he meant when my father said it to me, I have learnt to appreciate this statement with the passage of time. It is very important for a woman to be bold and humble.''