Opinion

Sunset Ladies Curfew

The office of the Engineer-in-Chief in Odisha had a strange order: all lady officials should leave the office premises by 5.30 pm on all working days. Is the move pro- or anti-women?

Sunset Ladies Curfew
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It was a strange order—from the office of the engineer-in-chief (EIC) in Odisha on January 27. “All lady officials or staff are hereby requested to leave office by 5.30 pm positively on all working days. They are also requested to work sincerely during office hours and ensure that there shall not be any pending work on their seats,” it read and left the field open for questions and speculation. “Why are only the lady staff in only the EIC office considered unsafe, especially since there are only a handful of them in the office?” “What about women staff in other government offices?” “Has anyone complained of sexual harassment?” “Are the male staff up to something where the presence of women is unwelcome?”

The answer flows in dribs and drabs, not convincing. Superintending engineer (P&D) Goutam Kumar Pal said it’s a move to ensure safety of the women staff. But the remarks left even the women staff unconvinced. “It would put additional pressure on us because it doesn’t exempt us from our regular workload. So, we have to work harder to complete the day’s work. If we can’t finish the day’s task before 5.30, work will spill onto the next day, which, in turn, would increase the following day’s workload,” a woman employee reasoned.

But the most vociferous opposition came from women’s rights activists, who have dubbed the order as patronising, discriminatory and reeking of gender bias. Activist Rutuparna Mohanty said: “The move smacks of gender bias and reinforces stereotypes about women as weak and defenceless. Why should restrictions be imposed only on women? The effort should be aimed at ensuring gender parity. It is also an admission that women are not safe after sunset.”

Concerned over the negative fallout, the “work department” has sought an explanation from the EIC about what prompted the move. A senior lady officer of the department held a meeting with the staff to understand the rationale. The letter, asking the EIC to explain the move in writing within a week, was ­issued last Friday, two days after the order. Given the Naveen Patnaik government’s consistent emphasis on women’s empowerment, it looks entirely possible that the move may be rescinded.

By Sandeep Sahu in Bhubaneswar

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