P.Sandeep Kumar, AIR 732 (2016).
Since the days of colonial rule, this nation has seen thousands of IAS officers. But only a few are remembered as long as this nation exists. One such unique and unprecedented officer is Shri. S.R. Sankaran.
Mr. Sankaran was no ordinary civil servant, move than a babu he was recognized a man of the masses who worked tirelessly for the benefit of poor and underprivileged. A firm and affable, the diminutive civil servant was a role model who showed what an IAS officer could do for the marginalized sections of society.
It is futile to image that India can become a superpower by merely steeping up the rate of growth of the GDP and increasing the number of billionaires while remaining home to an oppressive caste system and untouchability; the largest number of landless agricultural labourers; the largest number of people deprived of their meager land; the largest number of people self-employed in traditional sectors and steamrollered by the advancement of modern technology and entrepreneurship in which they have no share and to which they have no access, the largest number of malnourished, undernourished and underweight children, the largest number of people living below minimal essential income levels; and the largest number of people without food and nutritional security; and the country where the highest rate of infant mortality, child mortality, anemia, and so on, prevail. In all these categories, the S.Cs and the S.Ts, and the B.Cs, among the religious minorities, form a large bulk. The energies of all people within the government and outside it have to be mobilized to correct the situation.
The role of Mr. Sankaran seems evident in this regard. Apart from engaging with multifarious issues of the S.Cs, and the S.Ts, every day of his was marked by personal interventions on behalf of members of these communities who were in need of help for education, scholarship, hostel accommodations or protection against harassment in offices. He brought the enforcement of Abolition of Bonded Labour Act of 1976 which abolished bonded labour in India. He was a mentor to the Andolan Safai Karmachari, a social initiative propagated by Bezwada Wilson to eradicate manual scavenging in India
Abode of Simplicity
A small interesting story……
An Indian Airlines flight arrived at the Agartala Airport one late afternoon. It was a full flight. All the passengers scrambled down to pick up their baggage and leave for home. Among them was a short-statured, frail, middle-aged person wearing an ordinary bush shirt and slightly crumpled trousers. He saw some flamboyant busybodies briskly moving up and down in search for somebody. The gentleman quietly passed by them totally unnoticed. He went to the baggage-claim belt, collected a small suitcase, unobtrusively went out of the building and walked towards the cycle-rickshaw stand. As he was coming out, he noticed some activity around a couple of red-lighted cars and posse of police constables, smartly uniformed, eagerly waiting for somebody. At the rickshaw-stand he started enquiring in his broken, heavily-accented Hindi about the Circuit House. A rickshaw –puller came forward and helped him to get onto the seat.
A policeman was idly watching the proceedings. He heard the word “Circuit House” a couple of times. He knew that a new Chief Secretary was due to arrive and he was posted at the rickshaw-stand to control the movement of rickshaw till the new Chief Secretary’s convoy passed. He had a suspicion. He ran back to the building and informed his officer-in-charge that perhaps the new Chief Secretary had boarded a rickshaw to go the Circuit House.
All hell broke loose thereafter. Everyone started running towards the rickshaw- stand and the constable pointed to a smiling gentlemen quietly sitting on a rickshaw awaiting the departure of the official cavalcade of red-light cars. The Deputy Secreatary, Protocol, very apologetically enquired whether the gentleman was S.R. Sankaran. He politely nodded. Then started furious activity in search of his “missing “luggage. The small suitcase at the footboard was his only piece of luggage. He was requested to get off the rickshaw and get into the official car waiting at the VIP gate. He quickly pulled out of him money bag, took out the money he had agreed to pay to the rickshaw-puller and offered him the money before he got down.
All the officials protested. He looked at them and said it was a contract between the rickshaw-puller and him. Because of him the rickshaw-puller had missed other passengers.
Hence he had to be compensated for the lost fare. He paid him his fare.
He was an intensely ethically person, but never didactic or judgmental. He displayed an unexpected impish sense of humor and mischief. In an era When IAS officers view with one another to serve on the boards of corporate companies, Sankaran led a frugal life in his small single room apartment. After he retired from government, he lived in a small unpretentious and sparsely furnished apartment, which looked more like the home of a retired school teacher than a senior civil servant. Even the few pieces of furniture and gadgets in his house were forced on him by those who loved him. He never married, but clearly several loved and revered him like a father. When he received his pension arrears, he was alarmed by his very modest swelling of his bank balance, and quickly distributed the money to street children’s homes, and an organization for disabled persons. The Government of India awarded Sankaran the civilian honour of the Padma Bhushan in 2005, which was later refused by him.
Lessons from MR. Sankaran’s life…
Sankaran’s life and work illuminated the lives of literally millions of India’s most dispossessed people with dignity, justice and hope. His compassion, simplicity, and lifetime of public service will continue to light the way, both of those who work within government, and others who choose to struggle against it. His enduring legacy will be to demonstrate what true and authentic goodness in public and personal life can accomplish, to make this world a better, kinder place.
The candidates who are aspiring to become civil servants and members of these services must take a lesson from Sankaran’s life and work and resolve to serve the interests of the SCs, STs, the BCs, and the other poor, in accordance with the Constitution and thereby strengthen their confidence with the capacity of democracy to deliver social and economic justice, and equality of status and opportunity in all fields of life and work.
Mr. Sankaran compromised materialistic values to put moral values at higher pedestal. But we shouldn’t at least undermine the moral values at the cost of materialistic values in the public and private life.
The author is a student of ForumIAS Offline Initiative and cracked CSE in his first attempt.