Rohini Bhajibhakare was nine years old when she saw her father struggling to receive benefits that the government had announced for farmers. The agriculturalist from Solapur district in Maharashtra was running from pillar to post to get documents signed, when Rohini asked him - 'Who is responsible for ensuring you get what is due to you?'
Her father, she recalls, immediately said it was the district collector.
Twenty three years after this incident, Rohini, an IAS officer, has become the first woman collector of Salem district in Tamil Nadu. The district has had 170 collectors from 1790, but not a single woman.
"Seeing the difficulty my father faced inspired me to become a government servant and focus on public service," she tells TNM.
The 32-year-old has been appointed in place of V Sampath, who was transferred and posted as the Director of Social Security Schemes on August 25. Earlier, Rohini was the Additional Collector (Development) and Project Officer for the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) for Madurai district. She is married to IPS officer Vijyendra Bidari.
"I studied in a government school and did my engineering in a government college," says the Collector, who wrote and cleared the civil services exam with no private coaching.
"The experience has led me to believe that our government schools have good teachers but are lacking in terms of infrastructure," she says. "That is something I will be addressing in Salem as well," she adds.
Sanitation and health are two pressing issues that she will first have to deal with. "With the threat of dengue apparent, there is a need for additional focus on sanitation. That will be my first priority," she explains. "The desilting of lakes, which is a flagship project of the Government of Tamil Nadu will also be overseen," she adds.
But has the current political climate made it difficult to carry out schemes that she has in mind?
The collector pauses to gather her thoughts for a few seconds before saying, "We get all the required support from the state government."
Being the first woman collector of the district also comes with its responsibilities. "I see this as a sign of women empowerment and believe people can relate to me and what this stands for. It is important that women are made part of the decision making process at the highest levels," she explains.
Along with her administrative capabilities, Rohini has also honed her spoken language and speaks Tamil with a Madurai dialect. "I have been practicing from 2009 and believe there will be no language gap," she laughs.
As for her father, he is a proud 65-year-old self-made man now, says Rohini. "His advice to me when I told him I had become a collector was to make sure that I always put people first," she says.