How Muslim (Girl) UPSC Aspirants Turned Setbacks into Stepping Stones

From facing adversity to achieving UPSC success, Muslim women cracking toughest exam in significant numbers has many answers to questions that we often ponder

Kolkata: Wardah Khan, Nazia Parween and Saima Seraj share not only the accomplishment of clearing India’s toughest exam, the UPSC 2023, but also their background. Traditionally, Muslim families are viewed as conservative societies.

Wardah Khan quit her cushy corporate job in 2021 to follow what her heart said. She failed in her first attempt. But made it to the top 20 in her second attempt.

Wardah, a rank 18 holder, has opted for Indian Foreign Services as her first option, as she wants to use her skills to make her country proud.

Much like her is the tale of Giridih’s Nazia Parween. She also quit her corporate job to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a public servant and serving the nation.

Speaking to eNewsroom, she mentioned, “I quit my corporate job to pursue my dream.” She paused and added, “One year in the private sector made me realise that this was not what I ever wanted to do. This stint made me realise that I would never be happy if I failed to fulfil my childhood dream of being a public servant.”

Failure makes you strong

After resigning, Parveen got herself enrolled with the Residential Coaching Academy of Jamia Millia Islamia. But her dream didn’t come true, till she tasted failure not once but three times. It was on her fourth attempt that she could crack the UPSC exam.

“There is no substitute for hard work and perseverance,” said Parveen, who scored rank 670 in the UPSC 2023 exam.

Her journey from her hometown, Giridih to becoming a civil servant has been magical.

Daughter of a small-time transporter, residing in the town’s most densely populated Muslim area – Bhandaridih, Parveen feels her father played a key role in making her achieve her dream.

“My father is into the transport business. Often he would talk about bureaucrats he made and how positive changes can be brought into the society. I was deeply inspired by those talks to crack the UPSC exam.”

On being asked how many attempts she made to crack the exam, She said, “This was my fourth attempt.” So, was she depressed when she failed earlier, she claimed, “Failure, if analysed well can be turned into stepping stones for success.”

Stories of success make it to the headlines. What often doesn’t get told are tales of resilience and determination that often help you wade through the dark tunnel of failure towards the shining bright light of success.

So, if the number of attempts made by the UPSC aspirants to clear the exam is analyzed, it will reveal the fascinating journey from despair to success stories.

“This was my fourth attempt and I cleared it,” said Kolkata’s Khan Saima Seraj Ahmed, who secured AIR 165.

“Remember if you don’t make it this time then there is always a next time. Some clear it in the first attempt, some need to taste failure a few more times to get what they are aspiring for,” she said.

Talking about the success-failure ratio in the UPSC exam, she said, “Failures can be depressing but we can always fight it back with optimism. Remember to be a bureaucrat, we need to be mentally strong. These failures build our mental strength.”

Muslim girls crack UPSC

And what does Saima have to say about Muslim girls cracking India’s biggest civil service exam? She pointed out, “There are issues in Muslim societies but it is not like what media and in films it gets portrayed. Our parents face economic issues and in terms of girls have security concerns, so most Muslim girls opt out of higher education or could not prepare for exams like UPSC.”

“But now it’s heartening to see the rise in minority representation in the list of candidates clearing the UPSC exam. Perhaps women from the community have realised that this is their chance to take the lead,” she added.

This year, several Muslim girls like Nausheen, Wardah Khan, Arfa Usmani, Khan Saima Seraj Ahmed, Farheen Zahid, Areeba Saghir, Fathima Shimna Paravath, Shahida Begum S, Areeba Nomaan, Alifa Khan, Zohra Banu, Seerat Baji, Nazia Parween, Sophia Siddiqui, and Najma A Salam managed to.

52 clear UPSC: Is this enough?

But then, in a community that constitutes as much as 15 percent of the country’s population, is a handful of successful candidates enough to start celebrating?

Mohammad Reyaz, Assistant Professor, at Aliah University, said, “It has become a norm for Muslims to celebrate the small victories of these youngsters. A rally was held in Khidderpore to celebrate Saima’s success. People see them as icons for the youngsters. However, the community needs to understand that the net percentage of Muslims cracking the UPSC remains approximately the same. So, there is a lot more that needs to be done. We need more academies like Jamia’s RCA to mentor the economically weaker aspirants.”

He also mentioned, “I am a bit sceptical about such success stories as many such civil servants end up as ‘Sarkari Musalmans’. Nevertheless, it is nice to see youngsters emerging successful in such exams. We need more such achievers in the community.”

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