Government offices, many forget, are for the service of the public. The power imbalance between an officer and a citizen, particularly those from the marginalized communities, is so stark that many believe they have no choice but to crawl but when asked to bend.
Now, in an attempt to break this feudal culture, offices in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh are displaying a poster reminding visitors that they are meant to be served and not be subservient.
“This office belongs to all of us. While meeting the officials here, here are some requests,” the poster reads. These are the four requests:
Please do not leave your footwear outside.
Please do not stand with your back stooped and arms folded.
Please do not shed tears.
Please do not fall at the officials’ feet.
“Talk about your problems clearly with self-confidence,” the poster says at the end.
These notices have been issued by the District Collector of Anantapur Gandham Chandrudu. The poster was shared on Facebook with appreciation for the move.
“Thank you sir. Farmers and aggrieved people are truly scared when they approach authorities. Seeing such notices may instil some self-confidence in them. It would be nice if every government office would put up such a sign,” Kondal Reddy, an activist with the Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV) wrote on Facebook.
Speaking to TNM, Collector Gandham Chandrudu, who issued the posters and had them displayed across Anantapur, says that he wanted to address existing power structures in society that are visible in government offices.
“This is something we see from when we are children, everywhere in society and not just in government offices, where there’s disproportionate humility expressed by people because of social inequalities. Even though I constantly tell people not to do it, I’ve seen this practice continue," he says.
"I wanted to make this point and spread awareness across the government offices in this district (Anantapur) that such practices need to end,” he adds.
He further says that even beyond offices, in larger society, feudal power structures and dynamics like that of a ‘serf’ and a ‘boss’ continue to exist in various forms and must be addressed.
“When you see something wrong with the social ethos around you, you cannot remain passive. I wanted to project some positive values, at least starting from government offices within this district where I hold some power,” he says.