“They seek respect, not favours”- 6 July 2011

What is common to the likes of Kiran Bedi, Kiran Shaw-Mazumdar, Indra Nooyie, Chanda Kochar, Bachendri Pal other than the fact that they are women?

Simple. These great achievers in diverse fields seek no special favours as women. All they seek in this tough world is equal opportunity to work, to forge ahead, to excel, to compete with themselves – ingredients of respect.
When Bachendri Pal started her climb to the top of Mount Everest, the Himalayas did not grant her any special favours. On the contrary, she fought hard with very hostile weather conditions, landslides, blizzards. She fought on, refused to give up, and then made to the top of the world. Her story is the same as the story of any male climber. And of course, there were men in that expedition and Bachendri Pal had to prove herself as strong as the male colleagues. The process was tough and tested every grain of Bachendri’s personality. But, what she achieved before achieving the summit was her colleagues’ respect for her qualities, not seeking special favours being one of those.
When Kiran Bedi sought to become a Police officer of the Indian Police Service (IPS), people were sceptical. How can a girl in her early twenties be as good as men in police service? – they wondered. There are no special rules for women there, they warned. Kiran, however, did not need any special rules for herself. All she wanted was the same rules for all, without any special favours to men as well.
Rest is history. Not only did Kiran Bedi become the country’s first woman IPS officer but also proved to be among the best of IPS officers ever. And her excellence was not restricted only to her training period; it extended itself to her work-life as well before she sought voluntary retirement to get engaged in other equally challenging tasks and campaigns. She fought with male chauvinism in the male-dominated Police service. She fought political pressures under which others wilted but she stood steadfast. She fought unjust postings, unfair treatment at the hands of bigwigs in corridors of power. And never did she wail that she was being given a raw deal because she was a woman. In fact, such a wail would have been justified for factually she was being troubled by many under an impression that as a woman, Kiran Bedi was a weakling. But Kiran Bedi sought no special favours as woman. In the men’s world, she stood taller than many men.
Details do change, but the general picture remains the same in the stories of all the women achievers. They fight relentlessly and win not only in those battles but also hearts of everybody, howsoever grudging the admiration may be.
When Indra Nooyie was asked about the secret of her great rise to the top of the PepsiCo empire, she said simply: “I live Pepsi, that is I breathe Pepsi, sleep Pepsi, eat Pepsi, drink Pepsi, think Pepsi…!” Her commitment was so intense that in the tough, male-dominated corporate world, she started making herself indispensable as an emerging star on the Pepsi horizon. She worked long hours, almost first to arrive at work and the last to leave, always immaculate in everything she did – from dress to address. She was unstoppable. She made the difference, and that was so because she sought no special favours as a woman.
Chanda Kochar, too, has a similar story to share. She rose fast, got noticed by her qualities that put her ahead of many men in the organisation. She was tough on ‘politician’ colleagues and fought tough battles in the world of finance and banking. Men may have grudged her success, but none could complain that Chanda Kochar was marching ahead because she got special favours as a woman.
The moral of all these stories is simple: Women, rise above your stereotype, fight your own battles, seek no special favours, but never give up your insistence upon respect from others. Seek respect, not favours.
Unfortunately, what we see in most places is that women keep seeking special favours on the basis of gender. Yes, as women, they do need certain facilities which they must get as part of their human rights. Yes, they also look for a better understanding on the part of their male colleagues because of their special needs. Yet, basically, they should seek only respect for being themselves – capable and competent. They should seek no special favours. They should learn to make a wise difference between favours and respect.

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