Komal Ganatra never had to face gender disparity or fight for her rights as her father gave education the highest priority. He introduced her to the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) when she was barely a four-year-old. While this may not seem unusual considering the weight a good education carries in the current age, this kind of upbringing was very rare back in the 80s, especially in the rural parts of our country.
Hailing from Savarkundla, a small town in Amreli district, Gujarat, Komal was given enough freedom to take her own decisions as opposed to her female friends who were fettered in rigid boundaries and unrelenting restrictions. She was always encouraged to think independently and form her own opinions.
Narrating her childhood experiences in an exclusive interview to The Better India (TBI), Komal says,
Upbringing makes a lot of difference and determines the kind of person you will be. My father always taught me to dream big and form an identity of my own. His teachings helped me immensely to overcome challenges at every point.
It was the power to act, speak and think independently that allowed Komal to follow her dreams. She not only completed her graduation in Sanskrit, Hindi and English literature but also pursued her passion for the performing arts and earned a Visharad degree.
Soon, she started preparing for the UPSC, and it was during the same when her marriage was fixed in 2008 with an NRI from New Zealand. For the sake of her family and her in-laws she gave up on her aspirations and at 26, was married.
Though Komal was married into an educated family, it seemed that education had not brought enlightenment to the family. Her in-laws demanded dowry and even asked her to leave the house when she refused to be a part of such a regressive practice. Within 15 days of her marriage, her husband left for New Zealand, never to return.
This devastated Komal and her family. There were times when she was almost convinced that life was over. But her upbringing and education gave Komal the strength to take charge of her life.
Taking revenge was never my plan, but I deserved justice. So, I acted to set the right example for people who think they can get away with wrongdoings, and also for those who believe that justice is not for everyone, says the 36-year-old.
Komal approached the police and the government but to no avail. She even wrote to the Governor General of New Zealand with a hope to find her husband. Though she received a response, it did no good.
Komal’s determination to get into the government system and bring about a change grew. “At one point, I realised that chasing a man who left me would only disturb my mental peace. I channelised all my emotions and feelings to clear the UPSC exams.”
To get away from all the social shaming, Komal moved to a small village in Bhavnagar. There she took up a job as a government teacher with a meagre salary of Rs 5,000.
Though her qualification helped her secure a livelihood, Komal aspired to engender a societal change.
To start with, Komal knew that she had minimal means to prepare for UPSC. The village, where she was teaching, had no access to the internet, smartphones, English dailies or laptops. She had no money to buy books. Having studied in Gujarati medium also worried her.
But as they say, a real fighter sees hurdles as opportunities to grow.
I had no idea how civil aspirants prepared for the exams and that strangely kind of helped me stay calm. From Monday-Friday I would teach, and on weekends I would travel to Ahmedabad to take the classes.
Not only this, her exam centre was in Mumbai. For a girl who had never travelled outside her State, travelling to a huge city like Mumbai was overwhelming.
In 2012, Komal bagged UPSC rank 591 and was one of the 11 UPSC candidates to clear the civil services exam in the third attempt that year.
Times were tough for Komal. Amidst the constant taunts from relatives, spending hours on travelling to the classes and taking the numerous tests, staying up at night to study, and making sure her troubles did not disturb her mentally, Komal emerged as a fighter.
Komal is now posted in the Ministry of Defence as an Administrative Officer in Delhi. She remarried and now has a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter named Takshvi.
Today, Komal has everything, and she credits her struggles and difficulties for it, “If it weren’t for my struggles, I would never have become so strong. My past taught me the virtues of independence and self-sufficiency.”
There are lakhs of civil aspirants who prepare for the UPSC exams every year, and each one has a story to tell. But few journeys are as difficult and as hopeful as Komal’s who is an inspiration to many and also an example of how destinies can be rewritten.
When asked what some of the crucial takeaways from her experiences were, she says,
Even now life for women is not a cake-walk. To them, I would say that financial independence and education are significant. A woman should never depend on anyone; instead, be a strong pillar for her loved ones.
And for all those civil aspirants who are working hard to clear the exams, Komal says, “There will be many things or people who will try to put you down. In such times, you have to believe in yourself. That will be enough to get going.”
We, at TBI, are very proud of Komal Ganatra, and salute her undying spirit!
Feature Image Source: Facebook/Komal Ganatra
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)