“Always aim high and be truthful to your conscience. There is no substitute for hardwork. Never give up your dreams,”
The way work is carried out in government offices in India is known to most of us. Running from pillar to post, being referred to a new department on every visit and taking innumerable trips to the office are the prime reasons behind the discontentment.
In 1997, K Elambahavath faced a similar situation, and he continued his trips for nine years!
Dejected, concerned and wanting to change the poor state of affairs in government offices, Elambahavath turned the tables around and became an Indian Administrative (IAS) Officer in 2016.
Sounds too good to be true?
Elambahavath was born in 1982 in Cholagangudikkadu, a small village in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. He had a normal childhood with his father working as a Village Administrative Officer and mother being a farmer and social activist.
He spent most of his childhood days in farms helping his mother out, going to school and playing with his friends and three elder sisters.
With his father being the first to graduate in the village, Elambahavath’s family gave education the utmost importance.
Naturally, he took the academic route instead of opting for farming.
However, life took a tragic turn in 1997 when Elambahavath lost his father. The class-12 student had to discontinue his studies due to financial constraints.
At that time, he did not even know if he would be able to earn a graduate degree, let alone pursue Civil Services.
My schoolmates and people around me were busy chasing Medicine and Engineering professions. Meanwhile, I was clueless about my future. I had no idea about UPSC or its recruitment agency until I turned 24, Elambahavath tells The Better India (TBI).
Knowing that agriculture won’t fetch him enough money to fulfil the needs of the family, Elambahavath applied for the Junior Assistant (LDC) post under compassionate grounds provided to the family members of the deceased government servant.
One part of the application process involved submitting educational certificates to the District Collector’s office. Along with that, there were 20 types of documents that Elambahavath had to deposit. Though he was able to arrange most of the certificates, he did not get the job.
“The district collector office denied my posting by citing administrative reasons. More than 15 such candidates were waiting for the appointment. But, a few got appointed bypassing the waiting list. I couldn’t understand how such things would happen, says the 37-year-old.
Elambahavath, along with other candidates, petitioned their respective grievances to the District Collector, Revenue Secretary, Commissioner and even the Chief Minister.
My typical day would begin by working in the fields till the afternoon, going to government offices, pleading for a job and then finally returning home with no concrete results. I fought this battle for nine years and yet nothing happened, he adds.
After he had exhausted all means and efforts, he decided to take another route that did not demand pleading or anyone’s favour.
Elambahavath took a vow to return to the district collector’s office but as an officer. He shed the compassion grounds and instead chose competence.
He holds IAS officers in high regard, and thus decided to become one himself, “Many aspirants came to civil services by inspiration. I came here by frustration at the system.”
The bureaucratic apathy did not allow many senior IAS officers to hear our voices, and this was unfortunate. I wanted to change the situation for good, and that is how my journey to become a Civil Servant began, he says.
How A School Dropout Became An IAS Officer
Since he dropped out in the 12th standard, he chose long-distance education and completed his Bachelors in History from Madras University. He studied everything on his own as there was no access to coaching centres which remained unchanged during the UPSC preparations.
My village or nearby towns did not have any guidance facility for civil services. I studied in the public library that has a separate section for civil services. We were a group of 10 civil services aspirants in Pattukkottai. Our retired Headmaster Mr. AT Panner Selvam and many well-wishers were helpful, says Elambahavath.
The library and support of people helped him get through the examination for free civil services coaching by Government of Tamil Nadu.
Finally, there was formal guidance, and Elambahavath was able to forge his way to the interview stage of the UPSC for three consecutive times but failed in all. However, he did manage to clear several Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission examinations.
Though Elambahavath’s dream of getting a government job was fulfilled, dissatisfaction persisted, “I joined the state government Group 1 service which includes Assistant Director (Panchayat), DSP etc. I continued preparing for the UPSC while working.”
With support and guidance from family and senior government officials, Elambahavath was able to strike a work and studies balance. His road as a Civil Aspirant was not easy. He appeared for five Mains and three interview rounds and failed to clear any of them. But he did not give up and instead worked harder but sadly, all his attempts were exhausted with no success.
“I joined the state civil services. In 2014, the Central Government provided two more attempts for those who had been adversely affected by the Civil Services Aptitude Test. I grabbed the opportunity and appeared again,” he says.
His determination, self-confidence and perseverance got him into the Indian Revenue Services, and he made his final attempt in 2015 for IAS.
He secured All India Rank 117 and got into IAS in state cadre.
I was always confident about my goal, and I entered into this profession at a time when failure and success were on the same line. Thus my failed attempts did not discourage me at any point.
Of Learnings And Messages
On entering the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), a research and training institute for public policy and public administration, Elambahavath saw a completely different picture from what he had anticipated.
“When I entered LBSNAA, I thought that it would be just another training centre. But I realised the impeccable professionalism on the first day itself. . . . It nurtured me in every aspect of life. Since I did not go to any college, I can claim LBSNAA as my only academic institution,” he told Humans of LBSNAA.
On taking charge as a Sub Collector in Ranipet’s Vellore District, if there was one thing Elambahavath was adamant about, it was to change the way people in need are served.
I could perceive the grief of the people whose voices are not heard. I always try to understand the issues from people’s perspective who are waiting in the corridors of government offices. I have oriented my staff towards the same methodology, Elambahavath says.
When asked what is the biggest lesson learnt as a government official, he says, “We need to stop judging government jobs as slow and apathetic. It deserves respect considering it does the sovereign duty of a welfare state and works for the oppressed people. As for me, my job gives me immense satisfaction.”
Elambahavath’s incredible journey is indeed an inspiration for lakhs of people who wish to join the Civil Services.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)