Listen to this article:
New Delhi: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has said that “action” could be taken on the issue of an IAS officer having made disparaging comments when a schoolgirl asked her if the government could provide sanitary napkins at a reduced price, at a Patna event.
Indian Administrative Services officer Harjot Kaur Bamrah’s remarks – which included asking if students would next ask for jeans and condoms from the government – were met with widespread outrage after initial reports and a video of the event went viral online.
Bamrah is an Additional Chief Secretary rank officer who also heads the state’s women’s and child development commission.
In his response to reporters’ questions, Nitish Kumar noted that the incident had received attention on newspapers.
“Orders are in place to inquire into the issue which I learnt about through newspapers. We are committed to providing all assistance to the state’s women. If the IAS officer’s behaviour is found to be against that spirit, action will be taken,” he told reporters, according to PTI.
Bamrah, initially defensive, had called the reporting “malicious” – in spite of video evidence – and had asked the Press Council of India to take action against Dainik Bhaskar, which was the first to report on the incident.
A day later, with the state chief minister, the National Commission for Women, and several others condemning her comments, Bamrah expressed regret.
“I express regret if some girl or participant’s sentiment was hurt with some of my words but, the intent was not to humiliate someone or hurt someone’s sentiment but to encourage them for progress in future,” she said in a letter, according to The Hindu.
Bamrah further said her words were occasioned by the fact that “in a patriarchal society, girls are taught to depend on others for fulfilment of their needs. They are discriminated against in course of upbringing and repeatedly told that they are not secure outside the confines of their homes”.
She also underscored that a scheme has been in place since 2016 whereby Rs 300 is given to each girl student for maintaining menstrual hygiene and that a move is afoot to equip secondary and high schools with sanitary pad vending machines.
“A number of other problems faced by the girl students at schools had been raised at the workshop. All of these are being squarely addressed by the education department,” she claimed.
The National Commission for Women said Bamrah’s remarks were “inappropriate and highly objectionable”.
The NCW said it had observed that such “insensitive attitude” from a person at a responsible position was condemnable and extremely shameful.
“NCW has taken cognisance of the matter. Chairperson Rekha Sharma has written to Harjot Kaur Bhamra, IAS, seeking explanation over her inappropriate and highly objectionable remarks,” the women’s panel said in a statement.
Apex child rights body National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has asked the Bihar government to conduct an enquiry into the incident.
In a letter to the Bihar Chief Secretary, the NCPCR said it deems it appropriate to take suo motu cognisance since there is a prima-facie violation of section 75 and other relevant provisions under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
“The Commission thereby requests your good offices to take a look into the matter and have a thorough inquiry of the events and take necessary action. Further an action taken report may be submitted to the Commission within seven days of receipt of this letter,” the letter said.
In a separate letter to UNICEF India, the NCPCR sought details of the children who took part in the said incident, including their names, school details and addresses, “so that the Commission may take the necessary action.”