Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal has stolen the thunder from his other ministerial colleagues on Women’s Day. If Finance Minister P Chidambaram made news and drew initial applause from UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar by announcing an all-women bank, Sibal has gone a step ahead by quietly working on an all-women post office. The post office was inaugurated today at Shastri Bhawan in New Delhi.
Various public sector banks, departments and ministries have been vying to draw attention with liberal splurging on big advertisements in various publications for what they call a noble cause: giving a sense of pride to women and raising awareness to treat them with dignity and respect. It’s a different matter though that the morning headlines in prominent dailies painted a scary picture on the issue of women safety in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR).
In this backdrop, no one can be particularly sure of the driving idea behind Sibal's all-women post office at Shastri Bhawan, adjacent to Parliament and one of the most secure places in the national Capital. Shastri Bhawan houses around a dozen department and ministerial offices of the Union government. High and mighty ministers have their offices and the place is under 24X7 strict vigil of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). Delhi Police provide the outer ring vigil.
There was no official word or study to show that the women employees and visitors felt insecure entering a post office in same area that had male employees. In fact, post office employees (male included) appeared to be relatively subdued as compared to their counterparts in other government departments. It would be interesting to see if in the days to come the new or the nation’s first all-women post office sees rise in number of women visitors.
The prospect of higher number of male visitors frequenting this first women post office could be high. After all, there would be a great deal of curiosity about it. But whether or not that brings greater business to the Indian Postal Department, or to that post office, would be known only after a year. For now, no one is complaining in Shastri Bhawan and in other big government buildings in the neighbourhood. Employees at all levels, senior officers to lowly babus are amused about Sibal’s move.
"In coming days, I believe there will be more all-women post offices across country for convenience of women. This is first office in the country where all employees will be women. The government is looking into problem faced by woman and this is just a symbolic step," Sibal said.
The next such post office is coming in North-Campus of Delhi University. The official reason: a high concentration of female students in the campus, both as resident and as day scholars. With the advent of mobile phones not many of them go to post office in any case. But that’s gesture from the government to convey to female students that it cares for their safety and was creating a better living environment in the campus.
P Gopinath, Secretary, Department of Posts, had a different rationale to offer for opening all-women post offices.
"There is a different comfort level when women interact among themselves. Keeping all this in mind we will open post offices in places where there are large number of women. We have identified Mumbai, Chennai, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Hyderabad and Bangalore to start with," she said.
Later in an informal chat with media personnel, Sibal said the experience from all women-post office would be a useful feed back for the all-women bank, promised by Chidambaram in the Union budget. It could also be used for basic research work for the hyped bank. What kind of feedback the Finance Ministry will seek and receive from this post office will be interesting to note.