Four years after the government cancelled her candidature for the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) because of her disability, Ira Singhal has emerged triumphant by becoming the first physically challenged candidate to top the prestigious civil services examination.
“Irony is that on medical and physical grounds, I am not eligible to be an IRS, a clerk or even a sweeper, but the rules do allow me to become an IAS (officer),” Singhal said shortly after securing the first rank in the test conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
“I still haven’t checked the rank myself. Hope my friends and you guys saw it properly and confirmed it’s in fact me,” she joked.
Singhal’s phone has been ringing since the news broke and as HT was speaking to her, she received a call from a top official of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), informing her the minister wants to meet her on Monday.
Ira Singhal tops UPSC exam, top four positions secured by women
This is the same DoPT that had rejected her for the IRS even after her selection for the service in 2010. The reason: Singhal, 31, has been affected by scoliosis or curvature of the spine from birth and is physically challenged.
One of the reasons cited was Singhal’s 62% disability that affected both arms and would not allow her to pull, push and lift heavy packets — an ability the government felt was necessary for her to be in the IRS (Customs and Central Excise).
But Singhal’s success is built on a foundation of intense struggle and she has never allowed her disability to stand in her way. She surely wasn’t going to let a silly rule put her down.
She took her fight to the Central Administrative Tribunal and got a favourable ruling in February 2014, with the panel wondering if an IRS officer really needs to lift heavy packets during a raid. A medical examination showed Singhal could lift packets weighing up to 10 kg.
Singhal, currently in the Dr MCR HRD Institute in Hyderabad as part of her training, went on with the target of getting into the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).
She said her struggle to get into the IRS taught her the best lessons of her life. “Actually, every struggle teaches you something. There is a possibility of defeat but in life you have to fight on.”
Singhal, an engineer and an MBA, was born in Meerut. Her parents, who are into the business of financial and insurance consultancy, live in New Delhi’s Safdarjung Enclave.
“They never treated me like I was physically handicapped. From childhood they taught me to take things like a normal person does. My struggle in this world was not because I am physically challenged but as a woman...like any other woman subjected to discrimination or some backward thinking,” she said.
One of her endeavours as an IAS officer will be to work for women, children and the physically challenged.
“I want to say to everyone, let your daughters study and work. Let them go out in the world and make something of their lives,” said Singhal.
Singhal, who topped in the general category despite her medical condition, has a lot of hobbies – dance, drama, and travel among them.
Her friend and fellow IRS officer Manudev Jain says Singhal is a ‘shararati’ person. “She plans the pranks, we execute them together.”