The year was 1971. The place was Lucknow University campus. The occasion was the Convocation ceremony of the 1970 pass-outs. The area was chock-o-block with the students who had even thronged the verandas of the first floor to get a better view of the ceremony.
She had come to receive her Master of Arts degree and the Gold Medals and was sitting consciously at the last chair at the end of the first row on her assigned seat.
His Excellency the Governor of Uttar Pradesh Shri B. Gopala Reddy had just arrived and was being escorted to the high podium in the venue by the Vice Chancellor and the Dean of the University.
The initial welcome of the Chief Guest over, a bouquet of flower presented, it was now time for him to start handing over the Degrees and the Gold Medals to the toppers of various courses. As the students started receiving their medals, she started getting restless as her turn was soon going to come. She observed that the male toppers who approached the dais, shook hands with His Excellency, received the degree and the medal, bowed and left. As is customary on such occasions, boys were all shaking hands with the Governor. But the girls? How can a girl shake hands with a man? Two women candidate who came to receive the honours simply received the degrees and walked away.
In those days, in that city, with those social mores, no girl was supposed to shake hands with a male even if he was of her grandfather’s age. But it is not correct, she thought. Why should a girl not shake hands with the Governor? She cannot just take her medals and walk off without even acknowledging the receipt by saying a proper thank you symbolised by shaking hands. But no woman is doing it. Should she? Should she not? What a dilemma! Who could she ask for guidance? There is nobody around. What to do?
The announcement had started, “Master of Arts in Political Science, the topper this year is Kum. Ranjana Sharma. She has received two Gold Medals, one for obtaining highest marks in the subject and the second one Devi Nirupama Gold Medal for being the female candidate with the highest marks in the University……..”
As she walked towards the dais amongst the sounds of clapping and a roaring applause, the conflict in her mind was getting more intense. Should she shake hands or should she simply walk away like other females? Should she? Shouldn’t she?
|Ranjana Sharma shaking hands with His Excellency Sh. B Gopala|
Reddy, the then Governor of Uttar Pradesh
As she reached the dais, the Governor of Uttar Pradesh extended to her the degree and the gold medals with a very serious and disinterested face half looking in some other direction. She in turn extended her right hand for shaking it with His Excellency who was taken aback. As he awkwardly shifted the degree and the medals from his right hand to his left hand to free it for shaking it with her, it took him a few seconds.
For her, those few seconds when her arm was still stretched out awaiting a hand-shake, felt like eternity. As he shook hands with her, he burst into an indulgent grin. After shaking hands, she received her medals and walked away with her head held high and shoulders straight and square only to hear an unprecedented uproar from the gathering, whistles and cat-calls, cat-calls and whistles. It appeared to be unstoppable.
Later, in the evening where all the Heads of the Departments had been invited to dinner by the Governor at the Raj Bhawan, he enquired,
“Who was that girl who shook hands with me in the convocation this afternoon?”
The Head of the Department of Political Science, Dr P.N. Masaldan smiled and said, “She is my student, Sir.”
As if this was not enough, the next day’s newspaper carried a boxed news item,
“Kum. Ranjana Sharma, who topped in MA (Political Science), was the only female candidate who shook hands with the Governor in the Convocation.”
This paved the way for a new journey of life for her. Looking back, shaking hands with a man is no big deal in the present times but the social values forty years ago in a small town were so different that today’s generation may find it absolutely difficult to understand and appreciate how difficult this small step towards breaking the mould must have been for that girl and how this simple incident of her shaking hands with a man was being quoted year after year in the University.
(This is a real life incident.)