“J&K state subjects are welcome to study, settle or vote in any part of India, it is time they reciprocate”

  • Irfan Mehraj
  • Publish Date: Dec 9 2017 8:27PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Dec 9 2017 8:27PM
“J&K state subjects are welcome to study, settle or vote in any part of India, it is time they reciprocate”

An Exclusive Interview with Sonali Kumar, former J&K IAS officer


Sonali Kumar served as an IAS officer in Jammu and Kashmir for 37 years, and as such had a ringside view of the workings of the bureaucratic and political establishments. Now retired, she has shared her experiences in her memoir Unmasking Kashmir. Sonali spoke with Ink.


Your memoir is titled Unmasking Kashmir. It is being pitched as an outsider’s view of the bureaucracy in J&K. Can you tell us what prompted you to write this book?

The international print edition as well as the ebook version of my memoir is called The Outsider’s Curse: A Memoir of the First Outsider Lady IAS Officer of Jammu & Kashmir. The South Asian print version, however, has been titled Unmasking Kashmir: A Bureaucrat Reveals by my Indian publishers.

As I have explained in the chapter, “Why I Wrote This Book”, I penned down my memoir to basically give voice to what an outsider Indian Administrative Service officer, or for that matter, any officer belonging to any All India Service like Indian Police Service or Indian Forest Service goes through while serving in J&K. For me, writing this book was a cathartic experience where all my pent-up feelings could finally find some expression. I expect little but I 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.


It’s said that women officers face all kinds of harassment at work. How far is this true?

I have narrated one such episode in some detail in the chapter, “The Biryani Episode”. I have discussed how a number of women officers were harassed at J&K House in Delhi by a lowly officer who enjoyed the patronage of powerful people.

Separately, everyone in Kashmir would know about a sexual predator IAS officer who was arrested by the CBI and jailed but released when all witnesses and victims turned “hostile”. And, lo and behold, he was made the chief secretary without anybody so much as writing a line in protest in any newspaper in J&K.

So, I’d say, harassment of women officers is rather commonplace in J&K.


In your boo, you say all IAS officers from outside J&K suffer from “Outsider’s Curse”. What do you mean by that?

IAS officers from outside get step-motherly treatment in J&K because a non-state subject cannot buy property in J&K, 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’t vote in or stand for any state-level election even after retirement, can’t even get her son married to a local girl because that will extinguish that girl’s state subject status, and so on.


I consider this a trampling of these officers’ fundamental rights to property, employment or franchise guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. And why? Because a law passed by the Maharaja in 1927 says so?

I am highlighting this point because I want every state subject of J&K to understand that if he is welcome to study, settle, or vote in any part of India, it is time he reciprocated the courtesy by allowing at least the J&K cadre All India Service officers from outside to have the same rights in J&K. Incidentally, the Maharaja always extended this courtesy to his officers from outside J&K, and that’s why you had so many Dewans, Chopras, Katochs, and even a Pestonjee owning properties and living happily in Kashmir once upon a time.


You talk about the “transfer industry” in J&K. What’s it all about?

In the book, I have discussed how a government department is considered more important than another based on how many people can be transferred out. See, each transferee must pay money to get a posting of her choice. So, if you charge say Rs 20,000 for transferring a teacher to Jammu or Srinagar, and you do 50 such transfers, you earn Rs 10 lakh. And you could do this every three months, share part of the booty with your bosses and keep everyone happy.

Substitute teacher with doctor, engineer, patwari or whosoever you desire, fill in the going transfer rate for that department and the economics would more or less be the same. No wonder, the only industry thriving in J&K is the transfer industry. And everyone from top to bottom is involved in this sordid business.

The other source of “earning” for officials is commission from contractors. This is more prevalent in engineering departments like Roads and Buildings, Power Development, Irrigation and Public Health Engineering, where 10% commission is routine. I have discussed many examples of this in the book.

It stands to reason that if transfers are made on such pernicious considerations, the quality of governance will suffer irreparably, which is what we see in every department in J&K.


You accuse J&K’s bureaucrats of indulging in anti-national activities. What do you mean by anti-national activities?

I mean all activities that are against the Constitution of India as well as the interests of the people of J&K and India. I am of the firm view that anyone indulging in such activities for whatever reason has no business continuing in government service.


To understand this principle, imagine what would happen if a salaried employee of this publication criticises the editor or owner. He will be thrown out the next day, notwithstanding his freedom of expression guaranteed under the Constitution?

In the book, I discuss the case of a chief secretary who used to host Hurriyat Conference meetings at his official residence and indulged in other anti-national activities openly. Fortunately, he was caught and retired forcibly.


Some people have questioned the timing of your book, alleging it helps the right-wing groups in India that are building public opinion to revoke Article 35A, which grants special status to J&K. What do you have to say?

I vehemently deny this allegation. I am not affiliated with any political party. In fact, people who read my book would realise that I have criticised all politicians, right-wing or left-wing. I started writing this book in December 2015 after I retired from the IAS. It was finally published internationally in May 2017. If that timed it with the Supreme Court’s hearings on Article 35A, that’s purely coincidental.