A Pillar of the Post

The article was published in The Free Press Journal in the edition dated October 17, 2021.

During National Postal Week that concluded on October 16, I spoke to women working in the Mumbai Postal Region, at different levels of hierarchy, about what it means to be part of the world’s largest postal network.

On the occasion of National Mails Day on October 16, 2021, India Post, Mumbai Region, took a tech-tonic leap and launched a new mobile application, Know Your Postman. The mobile application is a brainchild of Swati Pandey, Postmaster-General (PMG) of Mumbai Region. The unique android application designed and created by Mumbai Postal Region will enable Mumbaikars to get the details of their beat postman when searched by locality, area, post office name and Pin Code; more than 86,000 localities of Mumbai city and suburb are readily available in the database. There are 89 delivery post offices in Mumbai city, around 2,000 postmen/women with mobile devices, and around 2 to 2.5 lakh accountable mails, which includes speed posts, registered posts, Aadhar cards, passports, etc. that are delivered every day.

“Know Your Postman is an initiative towards digitisation of the postal network that will enable the working population of Mumbai to directly communicate with their beat postman and facilitate delivery as per their convenience.”

Swati Pandey, Postmaster-General, Mumbai region

Earlier, the postal department was synonymous with letters, parcels, money orders, telegrams, etc. But today, India Post is much more than these, remaining relevant by adding a plethora of services under its wings. A significant part of it deals with financial inclusion vis-a-vis savings. For the unversed, the Post Office Savings Bank provides some of the best small scale savings schemes to individuals. India Post also delivers old-age pensions at customers’ doorsteps, does Aadhar enrolment and updation work in post offices, and has a formidable clientele on the Business Development wing. 

Besides these, the India Post Payment Bank instantly transfers money to any part of the country if the Aadhar card is linked with the customer’s bank account. “So, the bouquet of services that we provide in present days makes us completely relevant, and we are the leading organization in public service across the country,” says Pandey, adding how postmen and postwomen, who are the brand ambassadors of India Post, have undergone a major makeover in the present era and are matching the pace of changing times.

Being a postwoman

Postwoman Radhika Milind Parkar, 58, shares a deep bond with India Post. Parkar’s father was a postmaster, while his uncle and aunt served in the post office, so joining the postal network was the obvious choice. “I had joined as an Extra Department Stamp Vendor in 1982 at a salary of Rs 90. My first posting was at Malabar Hill Post Office. I have always felt at home in the Post Office,” she recounts.

Her salary had touched Rs 500 by the time she appeared for the Departmental Exam in 1990, cleared it and joined as a postwoman at Grant Road PO. “I was posted there till 2008, and have been at Mahim PO since then,” she says. A mother of two boys, one of whom is specially-abled, Parkar thanks her stars for bagging this job and staying put all through. She is one of the three postwomen at Mahim Bazar all-women Post Office.

The ratio of the postwoman to the postman in the country is approximately 10% to 15%, but change is round the corner. “Of late, I have seen that women are approaching this field with enthusiasm and sit for exams held by the department of post to become a postwoman, and that’s so heartening,” says Sub Postmaster Amrita Jogi of Mahim Bazar all-women Post Office.

Currently, women are manning nine post offices across Mumbai city and suburb. “Earlier, there were fewer postwomen, considering the outdoor mode of work that included door-to-door visits and long working hours. However, with time more and more women have started joining the service, and in present days the ratio has reduced,” says Pandey, Indian Postal Services officer and administrative head of 229 post offices across Mumbai city and suburb..

The face of India Post

Pandey was instrumental in launching the Smartest Postmen Campaign and Digital Identity of Postmen. Talking about the initiative, she observes how the image of the postmen/postwomen has undergone a tech-tonic shift over the years. “We visualize a postman as a lean, grey-moustached, old man delivering letters to us, but the real fact is that young, smart, tech-savvy cool gentlemen have long replaced that old, grey-moustached men with smartphones in bikes and two-wheelers delivering mails to us. Postmen and postwomen are the brand ambassadors of India Post who have undergone a major makeover in the present era. These two campaigns were initiated to change the viewpoint of people towards post offices and postmen,” she says.

The smartest postmen campaign awards the title to one postman and one postwoman from every post office in Mumbai city and suburb based on their smart approach, proper dress up and chutzpah, while the Digital Identity of Postmen is an effort to emphasise the digitalization of India Post, where you can scroll on the mobile application and get details of your beat postmen. “Both the initiatives are to change the face of postmen/postwomen before the public and make them feel better in look and smarter at work,” says the PMG.

The uniform is their prized possession. “The khaki salwar-kameez with the India Post logo is my identity. It gets me immense respect from people. I am familiar with the nook and corner of Mahim, and the people I have been serving are like my extended family members. A few of them even call me to check my well-being on the days when they don’t see me around in the area,” she says, beaming with pride talking about people in and around her service area, who are the biggest asset that she’s accumulated over the years. She starts the round at 10 am, goes door-to-door on foot, distributes mail, and trudges back to the post office by 3 pm, and calls it a day by 4 pm. “The goodwill earned by me is my actual gratuity. I will be able to live off that alone after I retire in another two years,” she adds.

Empowering women

Jogi, who had joined as Postal Assistant at Tulsiwadi PO in 1993, is today at the helm of affairs at the all-women Post Office in Mahim Bazar inaugurated on the eve of Republic Day last year. In all these years, she has seen India Post adapt to the changing times and adopt newer ways to serve the customers. “All postal business transactions are made available with proper display of services at Mahim Bazar PO. All types of saving bank services, Multipurpose Counter Machine services, India Post Payment Bank services, Common Service Centre services, Aadhar services, etc., are offered here and are provided by women staff only,” she says.

The response of the public is overwhelming, and Mahim Bazar PO sees a high footfall of women. “People appreciate our services a lot. It motivates us to work with more enthusiasm. Many customers are astonished to find that an all-women staff runs this office,” says Jogi. She attributes the smooth run to her colleagues at the PO, who leave no stone unturned, come what may. “The staff here is always on its toes. Despite facing a lot of pressure, they handle it patiently. The staff is efficient and adept at work, and that makes me so proud of all of them,” she states. 

The work that Parkar does as part of her job is the same as that for a man. “Work doesn’t differentiate between our genders, and even we don’t. We walk shoulder to shoulder and give each day our best, delivering letters and other items from door-to-door, day and night,” says the postwoman.

Rising to the occasion

During the pandemic, India Post played a vital role in delivering medicines to needy people, banking facilities, and even Aadhar services, apart from regular work. “When people were scared to step out of their homes, India Post took the initiative to provide essential items to the people, deliver PPE Kits to hospitals, etc. Also, we offered Aadhaar-related services to people as it was indispensable for COVID19 vaccination purposes,” says Jogi.

Pandey, who was instrumental in launching SOFT or Supporting Officials for Treatment during the pandemic, states, “Mumbai was the worst affected city during the first wave of COVID. Helplessly watching my team succumb to the deadly virus, depressed and agitated me. SOFT was the outcome of this emotional trauma. I formed a team of officers who would extend help from admission in hospitals to delivering medicines and groceries at the doorsteps of the COVID affected members of India Post, Mumbai Region.”

To build a proper communication chain, she coordinated with the local authorities, local hospitals, and nursing homes to make beds available immediately for the patients, 24×7. “We coordinated with the medical and grocery shops as well to readily provide service to my team members. SOFT was an immensely successful initiative that the Directorate later adopted as part of their HR policy,” adds Pandey.

Indian Postal Services Officer Swati Pandey, who happens to be the first officer of the India Post to win a National Film Award for her documentary on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Elephants Do Remember. As a career bureaucrat and administrative head of 229 post offices across Mumbai city and suburb, Pandey no doubt has a tremendously hectic work schedule, yet the “keeda” of filmmaking keeps her on her toes. “Currently, I am working on a script that may take off in the middle of the coming year,” says the filmmaker bureaucrat. She started the Heritage Walk of Mumbai GPO in 2019, and authored a book titled Dawn under the Dome on the illustrious history of the Mumbai General Post Office with one of her staff members, Orchida Mukherjee.   

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s