Karnal/Chandigarh: When Shweta Dull speaks, students in Haryana listen. But she is not a teacher.
Having failed to enter the civil services, the outspoken mother of two who has a Master’s in Biotechnology has taken up cudgels on behalf of lakhs of government job aspirants across the state. From fighting for the rights of yoga teachers in schools to highlighting errors in question papers and lapses by state agencies like the Haryana Public Service Commission, Dhull has emerged as Haryana’s very own firebrand ‘recruitment activist’.
Now, students from other states, especially Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab, are turning to her for advice—and political leaders are taking note. She was seen with Rahul Gandhi during his Bharat Jodo Yatra.
“I want to make the system transparent and better for the youth. I can speak in front of police, political leaders or officials, I am afraid of no one. I speak facts and that’s why I question the government fearlessly,” says Dhull, who was detained by the police at Panchkula on 13 May while marching towards Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar Chandigarh residence in a protest against the Common Eligibility Test (CET).
The video of her detention went viral, and she was quick to put it up on her Twitter handle @ShewDhull, where she describes herself as a recruitment activist and part-time super woman. Her followers include Rajya Sabha MP Deepender Singh Hooda, Indian Youth Congress President Shrinivas BV, former MP and AAP leader Ashok Tanwar and Congress MLA from Rohtak Bharat Bhushan Batra.
In a scam-ridden recruitment process, Dhull is seen as a non-partisan voice for students and candidates. In the last seven years, the Haryana Public Service Commission and Haryana Staff Selection Commission have been linked to several scams. In November 2021, the State Vigilance Bureau arrested Haryana civil services officer Anil Nagar among others for allegedly manipulating the marks of dental surgeon candidates for cash. Jobs were reportedly sold for anywhere between Rs10-35 lakh.
The same year, the Haryana constable recruitment scam made headlines and an SIT was formed to probe the lapses. The Manohar Lal Khattar government notified a new law, the Haryana Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act 2021, which criminalises the leaking of question papers.
Dhull’s goal is to inform the public about lapses in the recruitment process for open government positions. And her online campaign, ‘CET quality nahi to vote nahi’ has become a rallying cry among her supporters and students.
When she’s not leading protesters, Dhull is travelling the length and breadth of Haryana to meet with students. At one such event in Kathal, as many as 60 women – some are girls as young as six years – gather around her.
“I want to be bold like you. But our parents are forcing us to get married? What should we do?” asked one young woman. In a cross between a TED Talk and a political oration, she tells students that she was once shy and quiet. She urges them to be brave. In a video clip of the meet, which she posted on her YouTube page @ShwetaDhull, Dhull exhorts her audience to stand up for herself.
“Find solutions. Tell your parents that you want to study,” she says as everyone claps loudly.
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Fighting for candidates
A group of six-seven students gathers at a tea stall outside a private coaching institute in Haryana’s Karnal district. As they sip chai and go through their study material and preparation plans, the conversation turns to Shweta Dhull.
Her advice is like a ghutti (potion) for aspirants like us,” says 28-year-old Naveen Dahiya, who is preparing for the Haryana Civil Services exam. “This attitude from the government has persisted for years, but at least young people are starting to speak up and raise legitimate concerns.”
Not all his friends agree though. Some of the students in the group question whether it’s worth “resisting authority”. Perhaps it’s best to simply cooperate with those in power, says Gaurav Kumar (28), who is also preparing for the Haryana Civil Services exam.
Dhull is currently fighting for candidates who passed the Haryana Common Eligibility Test in November 2022. Of the nearly seven lakh aspirants who gave the exam for a shot at the 31,000 Group C jobs, around 3.75 lakh cleared it. But then the government announced that final tests and interviews would be conducted for only four times the number of vacancies, which is lower when compared to other states.
“I’m not opposing the CET, but the condition that limits the number of candidates to sit for the next level. In Uttar Pradesh, it is 10 times the number of posts, and 12-15 times in Rajasthan. The chief minister’s arguments are baseless,” says Dhull. She cited IAS officer Tina Dabi who topped the UPSC in 2015. “But cleared the prelims by a slight margin.”
Dhull’s bone of contention is that a majority of those who cleared the first level will never get a chance. “How can they [the government] assume that a candidate who has scored slightly better marks than others in the CET will be better as a partwari, as well as a lineman or a lab assistant than those who got slightly lesser marks.”
In a state battling unemployment and dissatisfaction among youth, her views resonate through the rank and file of lakhs of aspirants hoping to land Group C and Group D government jobs. At 37.4 per cent, Haryana has the highest unemployment rate among all the states in India, including Rajasthan (28.5), Delhi (20.8) and Bihar (19.1), as per the latest data by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).
With the state going to polls this year, unemployment and recruitment scams have become contentious issues. While announcing the 2023-24 state budget, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar promised 65,000 new government jobs. But at the same time, the government also abolished posts that had been vacant for the last two years–across departments and corporations. The move elicited swift backlash from the Opposition and unions.
“Shweta Dhull has always stood up for the State’s young people, whether she is fighting over the contentious hiring of new staff nurses, teachers, or police officers. She does more than just speak up for students, she questions government policy as well,” says Pradeep Kumar, who has been selected as a constable in the Haryana Police and is currently waiting to join the ranks.
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The personal struggle
Shweta Dhull, 37, dreamed of following in her father and brother’s footsteps and joining the government services. Her father is a retired accounts officer with the CGA and her brother is a deputy commandant with the BSF.
She made it to the interview stage in her first attempt at the Haryana Civil Services Examination in 2011. Dhull says she appeared twice for the HCSE. She gave birth to her first child in 2013 and her second in 2016.
“I showed up for the HCS mains just a few days after the birth of my second child. Six hours after having a C-section, writing the paper was not easy. I remember when milk would come out of my breasts while I was writing the paper,” she says.
She gave the HCS another shot in 2019 when the Haryana Public Service Commission (HPSC) was conducting the examination after a gap of five years. But according to Dhull and other candidates, the papers were riddled with errors. Eight questions had two different answers (both correct), and 15 were from outside the syllabus. There were other anomalies as well.
The protests that followed cemented Dhull’s entry into the public forum as a recruitment activist.
“Mistakes were found in 31 questions. I raised my voice about these. I also met Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and showed him the question paper. He laughed at the discrepancies,” alleges Dhull, who is fighting the case in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Over the years, Dhull has lent her voice to several protests. And a change is visible too. Earlier, the HSC did not use to give receiving for RTIs. After Dhull’s protest, that has changed. Today, they give details of final result. In the past, only roll numbers are provided. Now full address along with fathers’ name is also provided. In 2015, the state govt withdraw vacancy of excise inspector, taxation inspector among others, after her fight aspirants joined these vacancy.
Last year, she along with yoga coaches aspiring for government jobs alleged that the Haryana government had issued appointment letters to “favourites” even before the last date to apply had lapsed. Other issues that she has fought for include the government’s withdrawal of recruitments, errors in results, problems with the syllabus and alleged errors in competitive examinations.
“Haryana Staff Selection Commission earlier did not give the receiving diary number of RTI. In 2015, the government had withdrawn the recruitment of excise inspectors, taxation inspectors, foresters, etc. Shweta Dhull fought with us after a long time, after which those vacancies were saved and the candidates joined,” says an aspirant on the condition of anonymity.
Today, Dhull, a single mother, runs a small business and lives with her parents in Karnal.
After so many attempts, most people move away from the dream and the world of civil services and the agencies conducting the competitive examinations. But not Dhull.
“She is a remarkable activist with a rare zeal and dedication for transparency in recruitment and a mission to expose the corruption in HSSC and HPSC. She has become the voice of fairness in recruitments and the young recognise her role,” says Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala told ThePrint.
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Power of social media
Dhull has an intuitive understanding of social media, which she wields effectively across all platforms—YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And she taps into her online support base for protests and marches on the ground.
On Facebook, she has the support of almost 80,000 people, and has over 17,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel where she posts recruitment videos every few days. Her channel description on YouTube reads, “I am working to uncover the bitter truth of unemployment & corruption in employment in Haryana.”
In one clip, she urges the government to make “quality papers and improve recruitment procedures”. And warns that if the system does not change, “we will raise our voice and fight.”
‘Why there is no CET for MLA and MP’, reads a comment on one of Dhull’s videos on Facebook where she is seen talking about CET. One average, here videos garner 8-10K views.
Her critics accuse her of being a Congress supporter, especially after she walked with Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Dhull, however, denies any political affiliations.
“I question the ruling party because it is their government and I also question the opposition. “Why don’t the opposition leaders come out on the streets with the students. Why is the protest confined to press notes and Twitter only?”
She’s proving to be a thorn in the side of the ruling BJP state government, with many within the party questioning her credentials and credibility.
“This woman appeared in the HCS exam during the Congress as well as during the BJP regimes and failed to clear it on both the occasions. She came to me and said she wanted to meet the CM to tell him how the previous Congress government played with the careers of youths through nepotism and corruption in government jobs,” says Jawahar Yadav, officer on special duty in Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s office. He accused her of playing in the hands of “those and posting her pictures of the Bharat Jodo Yatra on social media”.
Yadav denies allegations of corruption in the recruitment process, claiming that during the previous Congress regime, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had set aside recruitments for 11 categories due. During the present regime, not a single recruitment has been annulled, he says.
“In two of the recruitments, for the police constables and for the dental surgeon, we ourselves scrapped the process after it came to our notice that something has gone wrong. In the case of police recruitment, the police arrested 156 persons,” he adds.
Dhull no longer limits herself to education and recruitment-related protests.
She is seen on the forefront in all protests be it a dharna by wrestlers at Jantar Mantar or those around the woman coach’s allegations against Minister Sandeep Singh.
She is testing the waters, and is not coy about her political ambitions.
“People say I do politics. Why is politics a bad thing? Why can’t I?” she asks.
“If change comes from power, I am ready for that power as well.”
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)