Officers trail

After Shah Faesal topped the IAS exam last year, Kupwara seems to have taken to civil services with a vengeance. The backward district saw 15 candidates, its highest ever, make it to the coveted KAS in the recently declared results. Shafath Bhat reports.

It was neither a marriage ceremony nor any political rally when Sogam village in Lolab valley reverberated with bursting firecrackers and loud drum beating last year. The village was celebrating Shah Faesal’s making it to the coveted Indian Administrative Services (IAS). He became the first Kashmiri to top it. His success motivated many to try to gain entry in the civil services.

Fifteen people have made it to the state’s civil services in the recently announced selection list. The highest for the poor, educationally backward district since it was carved out from Baramulla in 1979.

Like last year in Sogam, people were jubilant in the hilly village of Kalarooch where Mohammed Ashraf had cracked the Kashmir Administrative Services (KAS) exam.

Ashraf braved many odds to even graduate. He lost his two brothers to the conflict. Being the only surviving son in the family he discontinued studies to take up a job in the forest department, which he got under SRO-43 – envisaging appointment in the government on compassionate grounds on death of a family member to the turmoil.

He did his Bachelors in Arts (B.A) through correspondence from Kashmir University. Ashraf had his schooling from a local school.

“My family conditions, the backwardness of our district and the desire to do something for my society motivated me (to pursue KAS),” says thirty-year-old Ashraf who is married also. “I was inspired by one of my colleagues who qualified KAS while in service.”

He says that he was disappointed after failing in the first attempt but somehow managed to get back his resolve. “I started my preparation right from the month I failed, devoted full time (to it) and was enough lucky to get an earned leave, which helped me remain focused on the exam,” he said.

Now, after the success he sits in an airy room in their house situated on a hillock letting the taste of it sink in. Euphoric family and friends, and neighbours all come with greetings. Even strangers make calls to congratulate him. Tears seem to be the only expression of his housewife mother and a shopkeeper father. They are ecstatic.

Around 60 percent of the successful candidates from Kupwara are from lower middle class rural families. None of the successful candidates is from Kupwara town. However, with interest generated in civil services the aspirants are making intelligent decisions in choosing subjects.

“I choose Public Administration and Urdu as my optional because I was good at public administration and from the past couple of years Urdu has become very scoring,” says Rafique Ahmad Shah, another successful candidate. Though belonging to a remote Lolab village Rafique was a bright student since childhood. He did his B. Tech in civil engineering from NIT Srinagar and thereafter went to IIT Roorke to pursue M. Tech.

Born in a middle class family Rafique’s to motivation for civil services is both personal as well as social. “In engineering you have to be in only one department where chances of excelling are limited but here in the administration you have the option of serving society at different key posts,” he said.
Rafique would have made a lucrative career in his profession but he left it to join thousands of other youths who in tiny, shared rooms amidst stacks of books, guides and old exam papers live in Delhi to prepare for this coveted exam.

“My aim in life is to serve my society. I am not meant for myself or my family only,” says Rafique with a hint of astonishing certainty.

Born to peasant parents, Hilal Ahmad Shah, is the breadwinner of the family. He graduated in science from Government Degree College Sopore only to find himself competing for a low level job in police. “My family’s (financial) condition didn’t allow me to study further,” says Hilal, who works as a wireless operator in police. Earlier he could not make it to the Naiab Tehsildar list.

Taking out time to study between breaks in the duty rooster, he chose History and Urdu as optional subjects for the Mains Exam.  “I was good at history and love to read about our past,” he said. Like others Hilal too feels the support of his family was instrumental in keeping him going. “My father couldn’t support me financially but the prayers and moral help given to me by my family is beyond comment,” he said.

Mass communication post graduate from Indra Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Sheikh Junaid Shafi hails from a dusty village of Handwara. A farmer’s son he had to leave his studies halfway. “I had to feed a family of 10 and in rural areas everybody’s contribution to the family income can keep it going,” says Junaid, who worked as teacher in a government school.

He sat in the IAS exam but could not clear it. “In KAS too in 2004 I failed but kept on trying till this day,” he adds. Enthusiastic Junaid had taken sociology and Urdu as the optional subjects. On the selection of 15 candidates from Kupwara, he says that it shows Kupwara is a fertile land and it is a big boost for the aspiring candidates. “The trend is changing I would always motivate my students to compete at national level,” says Junaid.

A fan of Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan and Ghazal lover, Arshid, 28, was working as a government school teacher in remote village of Zurhuma. “There are lot of fields where you can make a career but in the civil services I can go to do good for my deprived people,” says Arshid. He was doing M. Phil from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). His father is a shopkeeper. Arshid went for coaching after qualifying for Mains.

Abdul Gani Mir, the first Indian Police Services officer from Kupwara, and some civil services officers from the district founded Initiative for competitive promotion (ICP) to guide civil services aspirants. The ICP organized various workshops and conducted mock interviews for the candidates who qualified Mains exam.“A. G Mir provided a platform for all of us. It is his kind gesture that I improved my communication skills,” says Mohammed Ashraf.

Dr. Ghulam Hassan Shah, a 1999 batch KAS officer from Kupwara, was also helpful. Shah feels that the awareness generated by electronic and print media and various good coaching institutions have helped bright students to polish themselves. Shah believes that education never ends. He did his PhD from JNU in central Asian studies after joining the administration.

Most of those selected had no coaching at all. But they say it helps to compete with better educated candidates as it gives a direction to the way of preparation. Many took it only after their preliminary examination results were declared. Until the late 1960’s the civil service exam was the preserve of the English educated but after that candidates have the choice to take all except one basic qualifying English paper in English. The reduction in the weightage of personality test (interview) has also helped some to make it to the KAS, says one of the successful candidates.

Most of the youth term Shah Faesal’s success as their real inspiration. The coverage Shah Faesal got in the national media added to the glamour part of civil services in Kashmir. “Shah Faesal motivated me a lot throughout my preparation and it is his motivation and finally his fruitful results that inspired me,” says Rafique Shah, who stayed with Faesal in Delhi during his preparations. To some, his success was a motivation to remain focussed. “He (Shah Faesal) came to limelight only when we were going through our Mains so his selection was not the main factor but good enough for our interview,” says Arshid.

To motivate the youngsters these qualifying candidates have kept options open for the aspiring youngsters to ask for help. Just after the results were declared various publics meeting were organized where the candidates shared their journey to success. Mohammed Ashraf is himself an ideal example in this case. “I had no coaching, never went to an elite school and not even have a literate background. If I can do it why can’t anybody else,” says Ashraf. Rafique shares his views, “Proper direction and time is very important, you have to concentrate. Only six books with qualitative preparation will make you go through.”

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