When one browses through the list of winners of the civil service examination every year, the variety of backgrounds from which they come is always an interesting thing. The success stories are coming up from every nook and corner of the country. We read about children of serving officers making it to the top as well as a tribal girl from a remote village in Wayanad becoming the first IAS officer from her district. Even the optional subjects of the toppers show a wide variety from Mathematics to Malayalam. This diversity is the hallmark of UPSC civil service examination where the path to success will be different for various people.
The media naturally give more coverage to those winners who make it in spite of financial difficulties. In 2007, there was this person from Kerala who claimed that he cleared civil service, but could not get a service allocation because of medical problems. Many reputed media houses published his story without proper background check. He was able to continue this façade for three years, impersonating as an IAS officer and getting discounts and special treatment at government guest houses! People were not questioning his credentials because of his poor background. In reality, he had not even cleared the preliminary examination.
There are others who like to create sympathy during the interview process itself. Once I witnessed a person responding to a tricky question by saying “Sorry sir, my knowledge is limited; I am a poor fisherman”. This obviously did not create a favourable impression.
Another story I heard was about a candidate getting good marks in interview just because he cried! This story is surely exaggerated because nobody is going to award marks to a candidate on the basis of emotional outburst.
Another candidate whom I met was actually working in a restaurant in Chennai. But he neither showed any kind of embarrassment nor tried to take advantage of his situation. He behaved with a calm dignity. His making into the service was a story worth telling and the media did full justice to it.
At this point, I would like you to pay attention to an interesting fact about civil service examination. In the notification, there are only two criteria of eligibility. The candidates should be of a certain age and should have a degree from any recognised university. The stream of graduation and marks are nowhere specified. A person who has done his graduation through distance education is also eligible to apply. This very idea, which does not discriminate a medical graduate of AIIMS from a literature student who has done his/her studies through correspondence, makes the whole process an interestingly level playing field.
Another peculiar factor is that one need not be an expert in English language to be a part of the coveted service. People can choose any official language as the medium of examination as well as personality test though the question papers will be only in English and Hindi. So, a person who studied in a vernacular medium can compete with another from the public-school background.
Before the digital era, there were still hindrances for candidates from small towns. The availability of proper study materials and personal guidance were only there in big cities. So, one need to be in places like New Delhi for coaching which was quite expensive. In later period, many state governments started their own training institutes with accommodation which eased the burden for many in terms of expenses. Now with the information revolution, a person with a proper internet connection can access any information any time. The field has become quite egalitarian now.
Of course, people with academic brilliance have an edge in this examination where massive data analysis is involved. But it is not a monopoly of people from prestigious institutions or those who are rich. As beautifully put by a winner this year, “Once the competition starts, it is hardship for everyone irrespective of economic background”. So, if you have a supporting family and a will to work as per the requirements of this examination, nobody is going to stop you.
(The author is a former IPS officer and a trainer for civil service aspirants)