Ira Singhal became the first physically challenged candidate to top the civil services examination that saw women take the top four ranks on Saturday. And giving Delhi something to cheer about, three of these women — including Singhal — are from the Capital.
“I am shocked and surprised. 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, 29, an IRS officer who has scoliosis or curvature of the spine.
Singhal’s success is built on a foundation of intense struggle. She cleared the exam in 2011 but had to cut short the celebrations after the government not only refused to appoint her but also cancelled her candidature on account of her disability.
One of the reasons cited was that Singhal’s 62% disability that affected both her arms would not allow her to pull, push and lift heavy packets — a quality the government felt was necessary for her to be in the Indian Revenue Service (Customs and Central Excise).
But Singhal had 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, after 18 months, got a favourable ruling with the bench wondering if an IRS officer really needed to lift heavy packets herself during a raid. A medical examination showed she could lift a packet weighing up to 10kg anyway.
“My physical condition has never deterred me from pursuing my dreams,” said Singhal, who topped in the general category despite her medical condition and is currently posted in Hyderabad."I want to be an IAS officer. I want to do something for the benefit of physically handicapped people. Actually, every struggle teaches you something. There is a possibility of defeat but in life you have to fight on."
Renu Raj, who came in second place on her first attempt, is a doctor in Kerala. Third-place Nidhi Gupta, an IRS (Customs & Central Excise) officer like Singhal, and fourth-place Vandana Rao are both from Delhi. Suharsha Bhagat, also with the IRS, was the sole male in the top five.
“Though I performed well in the exam and interview, I never expected such a rank. I will use this great opportunity to serve the people well,” an elated Raj told HT.
“It is really a proud moment. I put in a lot of hard work and it finally paid,” said Gupta.
Rao, who cleared the test on her third attempt and topped in the OBC category, said, “I called up people twice to check if I had indeed made it. It is really a result of hard work. I want to be an IAS officer and do something worthwhile for the country.”
Bhagat, a chemical engineer from IIT-Bombay, said serving his home state Bihar would be a “dream come true”. He is no stranger to cracking the tough exam, having done so thrice in a row since 2011 in an attempt to improve his ranking. Bhagat, who did part of his schooling in Delhi, is not a fan of social networking, calling it “irritating”.
A total of 1,236 candidates cleared the civil services exam and were recommended for appointment to the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service, Indian Police Service (IPS) and various central services. The exams are conducted in three stages — preliminary, mains and interviews — and started on August 24 last year with 4.51 lakh candidates.
(Inputs from HT Correspondents in Hyderabad and Patna, and agencies)