For over 170 years, no woman ever held the post of the district collector at Salem in Tamil Nadu. A record of 170 collectors and none was a woman.
It took the daughter of a Maharastra farmer to smash the glass ceiling and pave the way for women in the male dominion.
IAS Rohini Bhajibhakare, now Rohini Bidari became the first woman collector of Salem district in Tamil Nadu since 1790.
When Rohini was nine years old, she would be heartbroken at how her father struggled with red tape while accessing government benefits for farmers. Troubled by his state she once asked him who was the authority responsible for ensuring he received his due, when he answered, ‘the district collector.
From that moment on, a young Rohini knew, who she had to become. 23 years later, the only way is still forward, with no looking back.
Having completed her education from a government school and engineering from a government college, this young IAS officer cleared her civil service examinations without any private coaching!
It was as a student in a government institute she realised that despite having good teachers, the only thing the institutions lacked was infrastructure. And this became something she aims to fix in Salem.
Her will to provide equal access to education for all reflected in her actions during one of her visits to the villages in Salem. While monitoring the development activities, she insisted on a surprise visit to a government elementary school near Attur.
Entering the Karutharajapalayam village school, she was surprised to see children playing on the playground during their lectures. When asked about why they weren’t in their classrooms, she was notified that they had been waiting for their teachers to come, most of whom were protesting with the Joint Action Committee of Tamil Nadu Teachers’ Organisations -Government Employees’ Organisations (JACTTO-GEO).
She wasted no time in getting the students back to class and started teaching them. For students of Class 1, 2 and 3, she taught Tamil and English.
She asked them to never give up on their dreams and aim to reach higher. It was only a matter of time, till she directed the education department officials to arrange teachers for these students.
Her earlier stints include being the Additional Collector (Development) and Project Officer for the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) for Madurai district.
The two men who have stood by Rohini in all her endeavours are her father, Ramadas Panduranga Bhajibhakare and her husband, also Madurai Superintendent of Police, IPS Vijyendra Bidari.
Speaking to The Hindu, he proudly beamed saying, “She is a very positive and sensitive person who believes in making women employees confident.”
Despite both of them holding extremely important public posts, when at home, they support each other in household responsibilities.
“The best thing about my husband is he is extremely supportive and non-fussy about so many things at home. I am not a great cook, but that is never an issue. He never bothers if I am late from work. When I travel, he takes care of our son,” she told the publication.
During the course of her administration, execution of plans wasn’t the only challenge. She worked on her spoken language skills to learn the Madurai dialect to avoid any linguistic barriers.
Rohini believes her appointment will serve the purpose of women empowerment. “It is important that women are made part of the decision making the process at the highest levels,” she told the News Minute.