Roopa Divakar Moudgil has been transferred several times in the course of her career in the Indian Police Services (IPS). It comes with the territory, especially if you are a bureaucrat with a penchant for arresting prominent politicians, pointing out irregularities in the system, or exposing government-business nexuses.
“But I don’t consider transfer as punishment,” dismisses Roopa, who is at present Inspector General of Police – Railways, posted in Bengaluru.
For instance, in July 2017, Roopa was transferred just one month after taking over as Deputy Inspector General – Prisons in Karnataka. No doubt, the fact that she had exposed the preferential treatment given to influential politician VK Sasikala in Bengaluru’s central prison, where she was serving time for money laundering, had something to do with it.
Roopa’s report alleged that Sasikala, long-time aide of the late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, had been provided various privileges in exchange for a bribe of Rs 2 crore to jail officials. The report not only put an end to Sasikala’s political career as AIADMK general secretary, it further enhanced Roopa’s reputation as a no-nonsense IPS officer.
“I did similar things earlier too, but they never came under the media glare because my postings were all in nondescript locations then,” she smiles, maintaining that the wrong-doer’s profile has no bearing on her decision to act. “I am a public servant and I draw my salary from the public exchequer. Our work has to have public accountability and transparency,” says Roopa, who was awarded the President’s Police Medal.
“I had no fear of the consequences because I was doing the right thing as per law. I have acted in public interest. How can they punish me for that?” she asks.
Instead, she was transferred for the 41st time in 17 years, and had a Rs 20 crore defamation case slapped on her by her senior officer whom she had accused of connivance.
What perplexes Roopa is the “pin-drop silence” she encountered within the system after the jail exposé. The only support and applause she got was from the general public, she says. “Acting as per laws and taking strict action when there is violation, the way I did, should be the norm. I don’t understand why my colleagues – especially those who have nothing to hide – don’t do it more often. By keeping silent, we have created an environment where politicians think they can get anything and everything done by civil servants. And when people like me stand up against the system, it becomes a problem. The system tries to discredit the whistleblower in order to maintain the status quo,” avers the TEDx speaker.
Born in Davanagere, Karnataka, to parents who were both government employees, Roopa had an intellectually stimulated childhood. When she was in class three, her teacher asked students what they wanted to be when they grew up. Little Roopa came home and consulted her parents. While her mother suggested ‘doctor’ – which didn’t appeal much – her father told her about the civil services. This sounded noble, so the next day Roopa announced to her teacher that she wanted to be an IAS or IPS officer. Impressed with the eight-year-old’s patriotism and clarity, the teacher asked other students to applaud Roopa. The incident stoked the flame of her ambition further.
Earning a Master’s in psychology from Bangalore University, Roopa – who is well-versed with Hindustani classical music and is a trained Bharatnatyam dancer – enrolled in the National Cadet Corps for five years. “That’s where the ‘khaki attachment’ came from,” she smiles.
She cleared her UPSC exam in 2000 with an all-India rank of 43, and was ranked fifth in her batch at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy in Hyderabad. Not having faced any sort of discrimination at home as a child, the first time she got an inkling of gender bias in the system was when a male IPS colleague in the Karnataka cadre casually asked, “Why have you women chosen IPS – what do you think you can achieve here?” The question left her bristling.
“In our training academy, we are told that we are officers first and then women,” she says. “But when you enter the field, you are reminded time and again that you are a woman. Your postings are decided based on gender.” Though she is happy that things have changed with the entry of more women, she believes there are vested interests at work when it comes to prime postings.
“Businesspersons and politicians have many things to get ‘done’ from the person sitting in that chair. Obviously, this work must be bordering illegality else they would not need to approach the officer at all. So, they want a person who can comply with their desires and demands. And women officers are not suitable for this purpose; you can’t tell a woman to bend as much as a man. That’s why women fail to get prime postings,” asserts Roopa, who is married to IAS officer Munish Moudgil and has two children.
After a career of 20 years in the civil services, she believes courage is both a personality trait and a virtue one develops over time. “If you act courageously in one testing situation, you will be courageous the next time as well,” she says. “When you have done nothing wrong, why fear? My duty is to the common man who faces the ills of bad governance. The common man has supported me,” she adds. “That is my faith in India, the public of India, and the Constitution of India.”
Photography: Syed Zubair
Makeup: Sakshi Gupta
Assistant photographer: Gavin
First published as the cover story of eShe’s June 2020 issue
Syndicated to Money Control