A schoolgirl in Bihar had a rather simple ask: “Can the government give sanitary pads at Rs 20-30?”
“Tomorrow you'll say the government can give jeans too. And why not some beautiful shoes after that?” was IAS officer Harjot Kaur Bhamra's snarky reply. And then she added, “You will eventually expect the government to give you family planning methods, condoms, too.”
When the student reminded her that people's votes make the government, the officer snapped: “This is heights of stupidity. Don't vote, then. Become Pakistan. Do you vote for money and services?”
This exchange, in Hindi, with a teenaged student from a slum was on stage at a workshop on ‘Sashakt Beti, Samriddh Bihar' (Empowered Daughters, Prosperous Bihar). The project tagline read: ‘Towards enhancing the value of girls'. Harjot Kaur Bhamra heads the state's Women and Child Development Corporation, which organised the Tuesday function in partnership with Unicef and other organisations.
छात्राओं की शिकायत पर बिगड़े IAS अफ़सर के बोल, यहां देखिए उन्होंने क्या कहा? pic.twitter.com/ZnnvYqdSlu— NDTV India (@ndtvindia) September 28, 2022
The officer did try to spin a lesson from her remarks. “Why do you need to take anything from the government? This way of thinking is wrong. Do it yourself,” she told the audience, which comprised mostly girls from Class 9 and 10.
But the series of question-answer shockers ran long.
When a student said the girls' toilet in her school remains broken and that boys often enter, the officer replied, “Tell me, do you have separate toilets at home? If you keep asking for a lot things at different places, how will it work?”
To the “become Pakistan” jibe, the student shot back: “I am an Indian. Why should I?”
Ms Bhamra had a lesson again when an audience member sarcastically asked her why government schemes exist at all. She said, "There's a need to change the thinking," and then turned to the girls on stage again, "You have to decide where you want to see yourself in the future. You will have to make this decision yourself. The government cannot do this for you. Do you want to sit where you are, or on the side I am sitting on?"
Despite videos of the event showing the interactions, Ms Bhamra today said, "It's false, malicious and wrong reporting of an event."
"I am known to be one of the most vociferous champion of women rights and empowerment. Some mischievous elements against whom stringent action has been taken by WCDC for omissions and commission of wrongdoings, having lost at each forum, have now resorted to such low attempts to malign my reputation," said Ms Bhamra, who is also Principal Secretary, Women and Child Welfare.
She has also threatened to sue the newspaper Dainik Bhaskar - which first reported her comments widely - saying that it was "a deliberate attempt to malign her image" and urged the Press Council of India to take action.