Would you like to read about someone who is truly inspirational?
Yes, a majority of our stories will leave you feeling motivated, but this story of 34-year-old Ira Singhal is what one would refer to as true ‘inspiration.’
Ira is the first person with a disability to have topped the UPSC CSE exam. This gritty officer suffers from a medical condition called scoliosis, which is essentially the curvature of the spine.
Having appeared for the Civil Service Examination thrice before finally nailing it and securing the All India Rank 1 in 2015, Ira speaks about how the journey has been humbling, sometimes frustrating, and at all times worth it.
Not one to let any disability come in her way, Ira has, all through her life, broken the glass ceiling and shattered the stereotypes that each one of us harbours.
In this exclusive interview with The Better India, we ask Ira what keeps her motivated and how she has managed to achieve all that she has without ever letting anything dampen her spirit.
She currently holds the position of Deputy Commissioner, North Delhi Municipal Corporation.
Having grown up in Meerut and Delhi, Ira says, “ I spent 12 years of my life in Meerut after which I moved to Delhi. I pursued an engineering degree in NSIT (Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology) and went on to complete my MBA in Marketing and Finance from FMS (Faculty of Management Studies), University of Delhi. It was during my stint at Cadbury’s as a strategy manager that I felt the need to write the civil service examination.”
The seeds of wanting to become an IAS officer, however, were sown in Ira way earlier when she was only in Class 3.
“I was in Meerut at the time, and every time a curfew would be imposed, everyone would say that the District Magistrate (DM) has issued the orders. As a child, I was fascinated that someone had the power to issue such orders. It was the intrigue that stayed with me for all the years to come.”
Just as I ask my next question, Ira says something of great significance.
“Make your plans; no one knows you like you do. Do not wait for someone else to validate your dreams for you—go ahead and grab them.”
And that is when I ask her how she achieved all that she dreamt of.
Dreams do come true
While Ira’s dream did come true in 2015, the journey she travelled to get there was a rather difficult one. Taking us through it all, she says, “I attempted the CSE for the first time in 2010 and subsequently in 2011, 2012, 2013 as well. I did clear the examination in my first attempt itself, but because of my disability, I was declared ineligible to occupy any post other than the Indian Revenue Service.”
Unwilling to give up without a fight, Ira moved Central Administrative Tribunal challenging the status. After a long battle, she won her case in 2014.
While the case was pending Ira wrote the examination again and for the third time cleared and got the same service yet again. Around the same time, the judgement was delivered, and Ira got a posting.
She says, “My aim in filing the case was also to ensure that the doors were opened for several others like me who were being denied a posting because of some disability. While that did not happen, I got a posting.”
For three months after the judgement, Ira heard nothing and kept waiting for her letter of joining. While she waited for the paperwork to move and her appointment letter to be delivered, a friend had suggested that during the time she was waiting, she could attempt the paper again.
“I gave the prelims for the fourth time rather reluctantly, all the while waiting for my letter. As I completed my mains, I finally got my letter, and I put aside all the materials and books and went for training. It was a time I spent very sincerely at the academy, not even thinking about the results.”
As fate would have it, Ira topped the exam in her fourth attempt, and with that, she created history and made her entry into the Indian Administrative Service.
“Until this happened to me, I was of the firm belief that the government would uphold the right to equality and give me a fair chance. I thought that such discrimination only happened in the private sector, but what I experienced and saw first hand changed that perception completely,” she narrates.
In conclusion, she says, “Work hard for yourself—that is the only way you can make them come true.”
While Ira has a physical disability, she has neither used it as a crutch nor let anyone feel pity for her. Her achievements are a testament to the strength she has in her, and she is truly a role model we should all look up to.
This story is part of The Stereotypeface Project, an initiative by The Better India that challenges 26 stereotypes, which continue to exist even today. We are showcasing these stereotypes through all the letters of the English language alphabet.
Stereotypes exist everywhere — they are passed down over generations. Instead of embracing and celebrating what makes us unique, we stand divided because of them!
We’ve unconsciously learned to stereotype, now let’s consciously #EndTheStereotype.
Visit www.stereotypes.in to know more about the campaign and support the effort!
How can you support this campaign?
1. Follow this thread on Twitter or Facebook
2. Re-Tweet / Re-share the stereotypeface that you would like to put an end to
3. Use #EndTheStereotype and tag @TheBetterIndia
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)