As a child G. Thilakavathi, born in 1952 in Kumarasamypettai village in the backward Dharmapuri region, displayed an extraordinary aptitude for academics. She was enrolled in school early. With accelerated promotions, she progressed to higher classes, rubbing shoulders with children much older than her.
At 16, her parents pulled her out of the first year of her BA Economics course in Auxilium College, Katpadi, and married her to a man, who turned out to be an abusive husband. Pregnant with her first child, she was subjected to domestic abuse at her matrimonial house de ella, prompting her father de ella to bring her back de ella.
With a baby in hand and enduring a broken marriage at 17, Ms. Thilakavathi managed to graduate. She and her aunt de ella, moved to Madras and rented a house in Valluvar Kottam, leaving her infant daughter in the care of her parents de ella.
“I was desperate to find a job to support myself and my family. My mother preferred I take up ‘light’ jobs, such as teaching or clerical positions in banks. But I had set my mind on the civil services. By that time, I had also cleared the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission Group I examined twice and attended various interviews,” Ms. Thilakavathi recalls. Coming from a remote backward region, she had difficulty understanding how to make the cut in the civil services. “Nobody supported me,” she says.
While pursuing her ambition, she enrolled in Stella Maris College for Women and completed her MA in Economics. At the time, the State Government had established a civil services coaching center in Anna Nagar. Ms Thilakavathi seized the opportunity and enrolled in the institute. She was among the successful candidates to clear the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination in her batch.
In 1976, she emerged as the first Tamil Nadu native woman to become an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer. [Letika Saran from Kerala was also allotted the IPS Tamil Nadu cadre with her.] “I was told I could appear in the UPSC examination again to be allotted to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). However, my father advised me to remain in the IPS,” she says. Still in a dilemma on whether the job would be suitable for her, Ms. Thilakavathi chose to hold on to the post as unemployment was rampant at the time. The culture of the uniformed services was not easy to embrace for the young woman with a rural upbringing.
“In some ways, the culture in the service and the nature of the job were a shock to me. My parents had imposed a lot of restrictions on me as a child. I was told a girl should not speak loudly, laugh or walk majestically. I was even asked to keep my head down while walking. This cultural background was in contrast to what I encountered during my training at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy. It took a toll on me,” the retired IPS officer confesses.
On her third day in the Academy, the cadets were informed that a tailor would take their measurements the following day to stitch their uniforms. “I had a sleepless night worrying whether the tailor would touch me while taking measurements. I felt awkward when I wore the uniform for the first time. I wept,” she recalls.
Her first assignment was as Assistant Superintendent of Police in Vellore, where she handled the farmers’ agitation. Her second marriage from Ella to IPS officer Nanjil Kumaran too did not last.
A career highlight for Ms. Thilakavathi was the successful handling of doping gangs on trains during her tenure as IGP Railways in 1997. She had introduced the ‘May I Help You Desks’ and CCTV camera surveillance at important railway stations and had a role in setting up the all-women police stations in Tamil Nadu. She was the first woman to be posted as an Additional Director General of Police (DGP) and Director of Surveillance and Anti-Corruption. She retired in 2011 after heading the Uniformed Services Recruitment Board as a DGP.
Ms. Thilakavathi, however, remains bitter with a feeling of not being given due recognition. “Everything was difficult. I was not given [enough] ‘plum’ postings and was kept on the sidelines. For every promotion, I had to struggle. I had to approach the court and Central Administrative Tribunal to get promoted as DGP. By the time, considerable time of service was lost,” she says.
Ms. Thilakavathi has scaled heights in the Tamil literary world, penning poetry, nine novels, 18 novellas, nine short story collections, comprising over 150 short stories, 11 essay collections, 14 translations and edited eight books. She is the only woman IPS officer to have received the Sahitya Akademi award for her novel Kalmaram in 2005.