Why I Wrote this Book

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  • Publish Date: Dec 9 2017 8:16PM
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  • Updated Date: Dec 9 2017 8:16PM
Why I Wrote this Book

“You know I really like officers like you. But I don’t know why Government of India only sends me junk”


What new can you talk of, except of cataloguing the postings you suffered and the “successes” you had over some boring 37-years of service in the government?

What’s new about Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) too, when there are so many books already on the subject? 

On the Kashmir dispute in the United Nations, on the valour of the Indian Army and how they foiled the “evil designs” of our enemies in 1947, 1962, 1965, 1971 and 1999, on the beauty of Kashmir, about the pilgrimages to Vaishno Devi and Amarnath Shrines and on J&K as a wonderful tourist destination.

And then there are biographies, hagiographies and auto-biographies of politicians ad nauseam. 

The pain and suffering of the Kashmiri Muslims in those “curfewed nights” of the 1990s have already been catalogued. The Kashmiri Pandits too have written about their horrific exodus, how they lost their little paradise-on-earth, and what is stopping them from regaining that paradise.  


But what I found missing was—what an outsider Indian Administrative Service (IAS), or for that matter, any officer belonging to any All-India Service (AIS) like IPS (Indian Police Service) or IFoS (Indian Forest Service), goes through while serving in J&K. In my case, there was an added disadvantage—I was the first outsider lady IAS officer serving my full term in this cadre. 

Willy-nilly, we in the IAS become the nameless faceless bureaucrats who perform the thankless task of holding the country together especially in the North-east and in states like J&K. In J&K, the fight is even more difficult. Because to rampant corruption and nepotism, that every IAS officer is forced to fight everywhere else, is added the deadly ingredients of:  communalism, anti-nationalism and, in my case, gender bias. 

But what is the big deal I’m making of being an “outsider” in J&K? Aren’t about 50% of all IAS officers in every state, by design, “outsiders?”

Well, the difference is that unlike any other state, in J&K, an “outsider” or a “non-state subject” can’t buy property, can’t educate her children in any technical—medical or engineering college, can’t get her spouse or children to find employment with the State Government, can neither vote in nor stand for any state-level elections even after retirement, can’t even get her son married to a local girl because that will immediately extinguish that girl’s state-subject status, and so on.

And why? Because a law passed by the Maharaja of J&K in 1927 (20 years before India became independent and J&K acceded to India) says so. The law was enacted by Maharaja’s Hindu advisors primarily to keep other Hindus of India out of J&K. And the same law is now coming in handy for Kashmiri Muslims to keep everyone else out!

But what happens to the Indian Constitution and my (and those girls’ who have committed the cardinal sin of marrying non-state subjects) fundamental right to property, employment or franchise? 

Shhhhh… Don’t even talk about it, lest you upset the fragile Hindu-Muslim amity in the country.

Okay, so let the Government of India then look after the interests of these All-India Service officers by letting them to come to Delhi (or whichever place in India they belong to) to construct their homes, to look after their old parents who can’t do “durbar move” in the sunset of their lives in J&K, to let their children study or to find employment for them…? 

Hah, are you in your right senses? 

Government of India instead loves dragging back to J&K even those All-India Service officers who may have with proper permission come to Delhi (or to whichever place in India they belong to) for any of those normal human needs. 

And what happens to their service interests when they get back to J&K? Are they allowed to hold the cadre posts that are meant to be manned by them under rules made by the same Government of India? Do they get their latest Pay Commission or even Dearness Allowance benefits announced by the same Government of India when their compatriots elsewhere get it? Are their seniorities protected under rules made by the same Government of India? Do they get their pensionary benefits in routine as their batch mates get it elsewhere without fighting for it every inch of the way? Can they hope to get official accommodation in J&K the same way as they get while they are with the Government of India?

Now, you are rocking the boat too much!!! You need to be taught a lesson you will never forget.

So that’s the CURSE of being an “outsider” in J&K I’m talking about. 

But what about the curses of that “outsider” to J&K? Are you sure the present problems are ONLY communal, i.e. how can the Muslims in J&K live with a Hindu India? Or instigated by Pakistan? Or because of the Kashmiri’s genuine desire to separate from India?

And NOT because of those tears of the “outsider,” shed while serving as bonded labour in J&K?

Just think about it!

I have worked in the J&K cadre for 36 and a half years and have spent another year watching events unfold as Arun, my husband, was still in the IAS there. This experience of 37 and a half years is something I thought I needed to share in this background. 

For me, writing this book was a cathartic experience where all my pent-up feelings could finally find some expression. I expect little, but only hope this book proves useful both in understanding what the IAS does in J&K and in helping frame some national policies for dealing with the problems there. 


Meeting Sheikh Abdullah 

THE TWO-HOUR journey from Baramulla to the Civil Secretariat in Srinagar, rattling over some 54 kilometres (km) of potholed road, was by now a daily affair for me. Among my companions in the bus that day in July 1980 were two smelly sheep and a couple of live chicken in the hands of a freckled youngster. 

A wizened old woman was sitting on the floor carrying a plastic bag containing a few live fishes in some water. I must be looking quite strange in a formal silk saree and bindi (the round sticker that some Indian women sport on their foreheads) but no one seemed to mind. 

The journey was important because we were to meet Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the legendary Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir that day. He had to decide whether I should be allowed to join the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) cadre of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) state or not.


Like my husband, I too enjoyed the fresh cool breeze of the mountains, lush green valleys and snow-covered peaks. I hated the hot Indian summer, which would make my father chuckle. 

“My daughter belongs to the mountains,” he would say.

And it was soon going to be true.

By sharing letters, it became clear that I was better off going to J&K than Arun coming to Kerala. 

Arun moved an application to the J&K Government for getting me over. I had to get the Kerala Government to agree to spare me, which to be fair to them, they did pretty reluctantly. Some of my seniors there, who knew something about J&K, cautioned me.

“J&K does not have much off an IAS cadre or culture,” they said in their typical bureaucratic way. I think what they meant was—I was making a terrible mistake, a mistake I would regret soon!

But I was unrelenting, primarily because I didn’t know what they meant!

One and a half months passed.

There was no news, negative or positive, from the J&K Government. The silence was eerie. 

Telephones being what they were, we kept writing 4-5 letters a day. We exchanged notes on the merits or otherwise of moving to J&K. 

Till I decided enough was enough.


Getting my Cadre Changed to J&K

SO TOTALLY ON a whim, I applied for leave and decided to go to J&K. I had to go to Delhi first by train and then to Jammu. Arun came to Jammu, two days’ journey from Baramulla, to pick me up from the Railway station. It was refreshing to find that he looked the same, sans beard or moustache. 

Next day we took a local bus to first Srinagar, the summer capital of J&K, which was about 300 kms. and then another one to Baramulla, about 54 kms. away.

The beauty of Kashmir in 1980 was just “awesome,” as my nephews staying in US would proclaim. The mesmerising journey to Baramulla with tall poplar trees on both sides of the road reminded me of so many Hindi film songs that were shot on that stretch. Like jane mera dil kise dhoond raha hai, in hari bhari wadiyon me (I don’t know who my heart is looking for in these green verdant valleys). 

The bus dropped us on the main road from where we dragged our luggage to the PWD Dak Bungalow where Arun was staying. 

Next morning, we took a bus to the secretariat in Srinagar. We met Mr. BN Safaya, the suave, aquiline nosed, Secretary GAD (General Administration Department) who was courtesy incarnate. And then we called on the Chief Secretary, Mr. Noor Mohammad. 

Mr. Noor Mohammad was one of the most influential men in the whole of J&K. In our little research, we had discovered that Mr. Noor Mohammad had started his service as a junior stenographer in the legislative assembly (without coming through any transparent recruitment process). First shock! 

Later through his “connections,” he had managed to get promoted to the IAS with a funny seniority of 1956 and a half. He could thereafter hold all senior posts under the State Government with ease. And now he was the Chief Secretary or the topmost bureaucrat in J&K. This made him somewhat like Jaffar in Aladdin, the evil sorcerer who could keep the Sultan under his control by casting a spell.

Mr. Noor Mohammad was definitely a dodgy man, as we would soon learn. 

Unlike Mr. Safaya, Mr. Noor Mohammad didn’t at all look like a “Kashmiri.” He was short, fat and surprisingly as dark as a Bihari… like Arun, as I joked. But he spoke English with a clipped non-Kashmiri accent and floored us with his expansive mannerism welcoming us to J&K with open arms, literally. 

My heart leapt with joy. I mistook his mannerisms to mean that our cadre change to J&K shouldn’t be a problem. With this contented feeling, we returned to Baramulla.

We were soon to realise how wrong we were.

A week passed and nothing happened. No news! Nothing! 

I decided to venture back to Srinagar. Arun was engrossed in his work, so it was not possible for him to join me.

Like a brave warrior, I hopped on to a bus to Srinagar. Which meant enduring a 2-hour bone rattling journey on horrible roads on a rickety bus to the Batmaloo bus stand. And then walking 2 kilometres (yes, walking) to get to the secretariat. And being stopped by security guards at the gate as if I was the biggest criminal walking to the secretariat. Well, for a while, I did feel like a criminal.

“I am an IAS probationer,” I would squeak. 

The guard would look surprised. How can a lady be an IAS officer?  After all, till then, there was only one other lady IAS officer in the state. She was a local from Jammu and 10 years my senior. Also, IAS officers don’t enter the secretariat on foot, do they? 

Once inside, I was repeatedly told that I had no chance of getting “accepted” in J&K. 

Why? Because no “outsider” had ever been taken in “by choice” by the State Government. All “outsider” officers, in fact, advised me to do a favour to my husband by taking him to some other state to escape this virtual prison.

My heart sank when I heard the word outsider for the first time. How could I be an outsider in my own country? I was an Indian first and then anything else. Little did I realise then that the entire Kashmir problem was because of the apartheid regime that existed. That regime which divided humanity into two: insiders and outsiders.

Being the stubborn person I am, the more I heard those negative comments, the more determined I became to come to J&K.  After all, isn’t this state a part of India and am I not in THE INDIAN Administrative Service?

The travel to Srinagar became a daily grind. Which meant enduring a 2-hour bone rattling journey on horrible roads on a rickety bus. And then walking 2 kilometres (yes, walking) to the secretariat from the bus stand. And being stopped by security guards at the gate as if I was the biggest criminal walking to the secretariat. And then watching the security guards make a strange face as if they had never seen a woman IAS officer. In their whole lives.

Every day my struggles were increasing in intensity. I was entitled to only a month of leave which was finishing fast. Time was running out. If I wasn’t accepted in J&K, I would be forced to go back to Kerala. 

Finally, Mr. Safaya, the Secretary GAD, took pity on me and told me there was NO possibility of my being accepted in J&K. 

“But why?” I was incredulous. 

“The State Government had just issued an order creating a parallel cadre to the IAS up to the rank of the Additional Chief Secretary. So, they would be soon replacing the IAS with the local cadre KAS.”

What Mr. Safaya, the Secretary GAD, said in a typical bureaucratic language made no sense. What he meant was: That the IAS (a national service) will soon be replaced by a local KAS (Kashmir Administrative Service) and then we can kick you outsiders out of our beloved state.

This would be the first step towards getting more autonomy for the state. And, of course, Mr. Noor Mohammad, the Chief Secretary (and the evil sorcerer!), was the chief architect of this idea. 

So, I was told to forget my dream of getting accepted into J&K. Mr. Noor Mohammad would never agree to that. Which made us even more stubborn. Instead of giving up, we decided to go up the next level, to the Chief Minister (CM). 

The same afternoon, we walked four kilometres. Yes, I am emphasising on “walked.” To the CM’s house behind Nedou’s Hotel on the Maulana Azad Road. We were confronted by a balding, pot-bellied, private secretary, who looked us up and down and decided that we were too lowly to deserve an audience with the Honourable CM.

So, we were back to the secretariat the next day. There we bumped in to Mr. Mohammad Yousuf Dar, an about-to-be-promoted IAS officer from Kashmir. We had met Mr. Dar in Mussourie where he had come for compulsory training like all of us. For some strange reason, he had got along well with Arun who was half his age.  

Taking pity on us, Mr. Dar explained, rather patiently, that we should have actually tried to see the Secretary to CM who was different from the private secretary to CM. The latter was there to just take dictations and type out letters while the former advised on files and other weightier issues. Routine appointments were certainly handled by the private secretary but the more important engagements invariably went through the Secretary. 

It was all so confusing!

So, we had to focus on meeting the Secretary to CM, Mr. Ghulam Ahmad, a promoted IAS officer. That took another day. 

Mr. Ahmad was a suave, well-dressed officer belonging to the Kashmir valley who gave us a patient hearing and then said: 

“Yours is a sensitive case. What I can do is simply to get you to meet the CM. But I must warn you that I cannot promise any positive outcome. The CM has a mind of his own. So, this would be your first and last chance to impress him.”

We nodded. My mind was stuck on the word sensitive. 

And this is how we came to meet the great Sheikh.

Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, popularly known as Sher-i-Kashmir was a legend in his lifetime. For some people, he was a charismatic politician who had fought for Kashmir’s independence/autonomy all his life. For others, he was a traitor because he had once connived with the Americans to declare independence for Kashmir. For some, he was a saint, a Pir Baba, who had miraculous powers to heal the sick. 

For us, Sheikh Abdullah was something else. He was the one and the only one to decide—the fate of our quest for being together in J&K.

The D-day had come, and we were ushered to the 3rd floor official chambers of the CM in the Srinagar Secretariat. I still remember the smell of wood polish and the sight of the intricate wood carvings inside his office. 

The smell created a mild panic attack. What if Sheikh Abdullah said no? What would happen then? My heart had reached my mouth. My mind was coming up with all kinds of horrible, what if, scenarios.

We entered the room. And had our first “darshan” of the great Sheikh dressed in a cream achkan with a red rose in his right breast pocket. Quite like the way his friend Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, used to dress up. He looked quite charming and elegant. 

We introduced ourselves and started explaining. Sheikh Sahib immediately put us at ease by asking us the usual questions: where we were from, where and what did we study, etc. 

Since I do talk a lot, as I have generally been accused of (!), and since I was THE OUTSIDER trying to come to J&K, I was soon blabbering non-stop. I feared I had spoken too much. When suddenly Sheikh Sahib lifted his hand, and cut me off. Was he angry? Annoyed? Or irritated by what I said?

Instead what I heard was,

“You know I really like officers like you. But I don’t know why Government of India only sends me junk.”

I was too flabbergasted to say anything, except, “But Sir, I do want to come here.”

Sheikh Abdullah’s eyes lit up, “Then what’s the problem?”

I told him that the Chief Secretary (Mr. Noor Mohammad, the evil sorcerer) probably had some “reservations.” 

Sheikh Sahib pressed the buzzer and called for my file. The file was produced within five minutes. 

Ignoring the six-page comments of the Chief Secretary, Sheikh Abdullah just scrawled two lines in his big, bold handwriting:

“The CS should reconsider his stand and send a telex today to Delhi conveying our concurrence.”

The CM then turned towards us and said with a twinkle in his eyes,

“And remember, I’m not as nikamma (incompetent) as the Government of India that sends husband to Kashmir and wife to Kerala. I understand the language of the heart. I promise that I’d always post you together.”

Bewildered, we stood up and bowed. 

And that’s how my adventures in J&K began.