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Back to the gender debate July 30, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, politics.

Some interesting perspectives have emerged on the Kiran Bedi case. For many she is a role model and while I don’t consider her one, from the little I was exposed to from the electronic media over the years, I at least don’t have any negative vibes about her. But now this controversy about her being overlooked and a junior officer being appointed as the Delhi Police Commisioner. Read more on that here.

When I watched that video, I was more sympathetic to her cause and remember telling myself the usual middle-class rant about our corrupt systems and such. But I am beginning to wonder if I have jumped the gun by not listening to both sides of the story.

Here is an article that talks about Bedi’s not-so-great poor record as an officer and how she has exploited the gender aspect and the fact that she is India’s first IPS officer to her benefit. Not quite directly, but its quite likely that some of her actions may have motivated from the fact that she can get away with it because she is a woman. ( To be fair to Bedi, she has not alleged gender discrimination and we must wait to hear her response to media attacks on her track record). Another article here.

I will not be surprised if much of what the article says is true. For example, person A who belongs to a group that is generally discriminated by person B’s group can take advantage of the situation and do things assuming he/she can get away with it. This is because should he/she be criticized/censured, one can always suggest that he/she is being discriminated against. This is much like a politician always claims that the cases and charges against him are politically motivated. This works and is credible because it is sometimes true, but only sometimes.

A lady IIM student once said that the success rate of women in group discussions/personal interviews was much higher for women than men. This could partly be because the pool of women who clear the first stage of CAT exam is actually more qualified. This could also be that institutes are under pressure to have more balanced classes and hence they are forced to ‘clear’ more women than they would if they followed a gender-blind objective criteria. The same is true it is said when its time for placements where corporates have similar goals of gender-balanced workplaces.

I think this is a complex issue, there cannot necessarily be a correct answer to whether this kind of a sort reverse discrimination is justified or whether it can even be alleged as the undesirable kind of discrimination. It is a public policy issue and as with many others, it really depends on what is that ‘societal function’ you are trying to optimize, your definition of ‘fairness’, all of which finally boils down to personal preferences. But the purpose of writing this post is to point out that in India and most certainly elsewhere, being a woman either sets you back from the start line or gives you a head start.

And that it is politically incorrect to point out the latter. ( and every way expedient to pay lip service to the former. )

Related link : Here is another one on discrimination, but this time of the kind where apparently using credit history in determining insurance claims is a ‘bad’ idea because minorities such as Hispanics and African-Americans have lower scores and thus end up paying more insurance.



1. Abi - July 30, 2007

Hey, where’s that related link? You aren’t talking about the stuff covered by Alex Tabarrok, are you?

2. Sharath Rao - July 30, 2007

Oops…yeah indeed…I have it up there now : ) ..thanks

3. Loknath - July 31, 2007

What bullshit are you ranting Sharat. We should be glad that someone had the balls to GET to a place thru this archaic corrupt system where people rise to their level of incompetence. You must realize the fact that had it not been bedi it would have been one more yadav bihari whose sole objective is to make as such money as he could with plush postings. Bedi has DEMONSTARTED GOOD WORK and tha we are fortunate to have her at where she is. In fact i won’t mind advocating the right people to use wrong means to get through what they deserve. We had enough of crap with people following systems (making their way through the loopholes in the system).

4. Sharath Rao - July 31, 2007


My arguments are sourced from article from the very same media that has largely potrayed Ms. Bedi is positive light ( and that which appear to be your source as well ). As I mentioned, if the allegations against her are correct, then it only reflects poorly on our media that has not given a complete coverage in terms of the specifics of her track record.

So my comments were not merely on this specific case of hers but an amusement on discovering that there may be other aspects to a high profile people like Ms. Bedi that may not come out in the open to start with. I would be curious to know what makes you so convinced of her “DEMONSTARTED GOOD WORK” without perhaps waiting for her rebuttal to Mr. Vohra’s article. I am aware that she has been awarded the Magsaysay award for prison reforms, but that does not change the overall picture. As for the person who indeed replaced her, I don’t have any comment on his record. I have not followed minuscule details of the case.

5. Deepak S Krishnan - July 31, 2007

trust our media to blow things out of proportion once again. due to the onslaught of sunday add-ons like Rouge (by the Times of India), the male female equation has degenerated into something on the lines of the general category student – reserved category student equation.

As in the case of the latter, our politicians and policy makers and media have jumped blindfolded by focusing on the short term benefits. In my opinion, this does not set right the balance, it only creates new imbalances.

why is this relevant here? kiran bedi is not the only person to be sidelined during promotions. there have been so many people (please note i’m using the word PEOPLE, not MALES) who have had to see ‘lesser talented’/’well connected’ (note the quotes: these views are that of the person who has been bypassed, the rest of the world may think otherwise). It only happens that kiran bedi happens to be a famous personality. For all we know Kiran Bedi’s accusations may be false and Y S Dadwal may indeed be a better qualified person.

Where were the same ‘guardians of merit’ when prathiba patil was pitted against abdul kalam in the presidential elections? Abdul Kalam anyday is better qualified, untarnished and most importantly, not a rubber stamp of Sonia Gandhi.

In the final analysis, it is fashionable to do a lot many things in the present day world. What should actually count is using the same yardstick in every case irrespective of caste, creed, sex, nationality etc.

Oh, lest I forget, using the same “yardstick” would not conform to the definitions of a standard right? – reproducability, durability etc… Hence, I suggest the term ‘use the same ray of light’.. Amen Madonna 😀

6. Deepak S Krishnan - July 31, 2007

shucks, never imagined my comment would be so long.. should have blogged instead 😛

7. Loknath - July 31, 2007


This reminds me a tamil movie in which an ordinary lady was tried after a discovery being made about her incorrect caste certificate. The movie has tried to depict the strong desire that this ordinary lady had to become an a collector and set things right (and she does it in the movie) and one fine day some jealous crook brings about this piece of news to create nuisance. But the lady had a very stong support from the masses and the court ultimately had to acquit.

I understand reality is not a melodrama but i must educate you on the fact that good work is something thats not done everyday just like a good employee is good because of one great contribution in may be 5 years. This is what differentiates good from not so good people. It is this 5 years on which good works are to be recorded. Media doesn’t cover the person until he/she is newsworthy for good or bad reasons. Bedi was popular in press 15 years after she was commissioned into IPS. Media only talked about her recent past and media is quick at adding spice to little substance. This past also is motivated on similar lines as the movie. MAY be the other person could have been better. Why make a fuss now. Why should we tend to DISCREDIT people especially when we are already blessed with so many rogue leaders and bureaucrats for 50 years and none with any noteworthy contributions. Infact their rule has deprived us of all comforts that similar countreis enjoy. We should revere, eleveate and partonize people like Bedi only for the sake that she only could do some thing better than her contemporaries. So were we to have even 10 such Bedis it is tantamount to the collective efforts of all these big-butt babus who have hardly the time to even come out of their plush offices until there is a riot or a rape in the ciity. Bedi has set a good example atleast. Isn’t that enough.

8. Randomizer - July 31, 2007

“But the purpose of writing this post is to point out that in India and most certainly elsewhere, being a woman either sets you back from the start line or gives you a head start”

This discussion is an age-old question that encompasses everything from caste, racism, sexism and past prejudices. And overall, my stand on affirmative action is that ‘it is generally more good than bad. There will always be anamolies who make unfair use of benefits, but overall it seeks to provide balance to an otherwise badly skewed society’ .

Just like well off African-Americans who get into Harvard based on race, or well off SC/ST people who make it into the IITs due to the quota, these anamolies discredit a system that is overall, beneficial. Just like the last discussion we had, we will never arrive at a perfect system ,and though the motive is generally good, the implementation (esp in the case of 50% reservation in IITs) is downright stupid.

It is also funny that these days, it is as easy to smear someone by calling him a ‘racist’ as it is to smear someone else by saying he’s playing ‘the race card’ 🙂

About Kiran Bedi, I do not know her past, and frankly am too interested, but if she has used the system to her advantage, I wouldn’t be the least surprised

9. Randomizer - July 31, 2007

(correction in last para: …. and frankly am NOT too interested… )

10. Sharath - July 31, 2007

@Loknath, Assuming even some of the allegations against Bedi are true, and then how far you may go to condone and choose to overlook them while appreciating her good work is a matter of personal preference, where we disagree. I will leave it at that. 🙂

@randomizer, @DK – I don’t have pretty much to disagree with what you have to say.

Overall though its sad to say that so much of our national debates involve identities that don’t derive from ideology but attributes of birth. Maybe it should only be expected in a country that is still unequal (in terms of oppurtunities) and struggling to define itself among the myraid individual identities.

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