(Interview) Kashmir's first Muslim woman UPSC achiever
'It's all about conviction and a burning desire inside you,'
says Dr Ruveda Salam, the Kashmir valley's first Muslim woman to crack the UPSC
This has been a good year for women from Jammu and Kashmir.
While Sehrish Asgar from Kishhtwar district in Jammu ranked 23rd in the Union
Public Services Commission examination, Dr Ruveda Salam became the first Muslim
woman from the Kashmir valley to pass the UPSC exam.
Dr Salam, who hails from the border district of Kupwara,
currently works as a manager at the Department of Industries and Commerce in
Jammu & Kashmir. She asserts she will appear again for the UPSC exam and improve
her rank (she is ranked 820 in this exam).
Even when she was studying for a medical degree at the
Government Medical College, Srinagar, she was determined that she would join the
civil services. Thanks to her parents -- her father is a former deputy director
general of Doordarshan -- she could fend off pressure from orthodox relatives to
"I am not going to blame my religion for this, but yes,
Muslim girls are supposed to marry early," she tells Rediff.com's Prasanna D
Zore in a telephone conversation.
She thanks her mother for being a buffer and fending off
suggestions of early marriage. "They (her parents) knew I had it in me to do it.
So they always supported my convictions," she adds.
This was not the only hurdle she faced in her desire to be a "nation builder."
Absence of adequate and timely study material, frequent political disturbances
in the valley leading to strikes were other challenges the 27-year-old Dr Salam
How does it feel when people refer to you as the first
Muslim woman from the Kashmir valley to crack the UPSC exam?
I feel very proud of reaching such a level. My parents too
are proud about it. There is this sense of turmoil in the valley and the
situation does not allow you to pursue such dreams.
So being the first woman to get a rank in the UPSC from the
Kashmir valley does give me a sense of pride.
I had not expected it. When I went about the preparation I
never thought that this is going to happen. I was preparing to get into the
all-India services... this is just the icing on the cake.
How did you prepare for your exams?
I have not done any coaching. I had already qualified for the
state civil services exam without coaching. Then I was on a job; I was on
probation for some time. It was not possible for me to move to Delhi or any
other metropolitan city to undertake coaching.
I prepared for one whole year before my preliminary exam, I
got the right material; I did order certain books from Delhi. Then, the Internet
also helped me.
Like Facebook has many pages, many newspapers have their
pages on Facebook and they regularly update you and those updates come in your
news feed. I was able to get the information I needed (for the UPSC exam
preparation) on Facebook.
Besides that, I also took guidance of some senior IAS
officers in the state. I carried my study books to office and whenever time
permitted I'd take them out and study.
The challenges while preparing for the UPSC exam...
In J & K, especially in the Kashmir valley, you have things
going around which really don't allow you to focus on your studies.
But it depends on one's conviction. I was able to get those
things out of my mind and focus on my strategy.
What kind of things would bother you?
Off and on, we have strikes in the valley. It is important
for us to deliver even during strikes. We risk our lives in the midst of stone
pelting. It is very difficult to get newspapers, study material whenever you
Another thing I feel is that because of the disturbances,
because of the political nature of the entire dispute you tend to get involved
in the political situation.
People ask you (uncomfortable questions) and being a part of
the state civil services it was particularly difficult to deal with this. We
face many challenges while we work.
We have to reach our office even when there are strikes, no
matter what. It does take a lot of time to reach office if you don't have your
own vehicle. Somehow I managed.
I would take some time out (to relax) from all those things
that do depress you, which actually make you lose your focus. Putting them aside
was very important.
I tried to restrict myself from indulging in gossip. That is
a very general thing in the Kashmir valley. Most of the talk revolves around the
political situation. That is one challenge.
Another challenge is that of being a woman.
While I am not going to blame my religion for this but yes,
Muslim girls are supposed to marry at an early age.
In my case. my father being a central government employee and
my mother also being educated, they were able to support me.
My mother acted as a buffer against all those demands and
perceptions of our relatives who wanted me to get married at an early age.
How did your maintain your focus?
I tried to restrict my social relations. Like, no gossip;
even on Facebook if I had an opinion about a political situation I would not
When you have conviction, you are able to focus and things go
your way. It's all about the conviction and the burning desire inside you.
I was able to overcome subjects that would distract me from
my studies. My parents had faith in my abilities. They knew I had it in me to do
it. They always supported my convictions.
How did you convince your parents that you wanted to be a
I had already done my MBBS and joined the state civil
services. They said if you want to fly higher we are not going to act as a
I had already made up my mind while doing my MBBS that I
would shift over to the civil services. Had I pursued MD or MS it would have
been very difficult to switch over to the civil services.
There was another problem. After the Plus 2 level there were
not many opportunities (in the state). There was this craze going around that
you have to be either a doctor or an engineer.
In the Kashmir valley being a doctor or an engineer was
considered to be a blessing in 2003-2004.
Parents forced their children to take up medicine or
My parents didn't force me. I asked them for their advice and
they asked me to follow my conviction. They asked me to first complete my MBBS
and then go for it, so that in the event of not qualifying for the civil
services I'd at least have a good profession to fall back on.
It was in 2009. I had already completed my graduation and the
notification was out by the J & K Public Service Commission. In 2009 I had
passed my final year of MBBS and I was doing my internships as a doctor at the
Government Medical College, Srinagar.
Some 398 posts were advertised. I applied and after
one-and-a-half years I qualified with 25th rank in the state. It was quite
logical then for me to leave medicine and join the state civil services.
I worked with the state government for two years: One year on
probation and one year as a full-fledged employee. I have also functioned as an
under secretary in the home department for four months. After I completed my
training that was the first posting I got.
How did your stint as a state civil servant help you prepare
for the UPSC exam?
Once I got into the state civil services I felt that there
was something better and bigger out there.
The canvas is bigger, the promotion opportunities are higher
and while I was at the home department I was really motivated by my principal
secretary, Mr B R Sharma, a very senior IAS officer.
Very few months were left for my main examination and I told
him I had qualified in the preliminary exam and needed some time to prepare for
He sanctioned my 20-day leave and that helped a great deal.
As part of the state machinery I could get an overview of the
total administration. I got a glimpse how the overall state administration is
directed and controlled from one place.
Tell us something about the personal interview. What
questions were asked?
Most of the questions were related to my state, global
warming and the Pragaash controversy. The music band was disbanded after a
controversy. They also asked me about the Delhi gang-rape and how we can provide
safety to women and work for their empowerment.
A lady member asked me about the Pragaash controversy. I had
to narrate the chain of events, what led to the controversy. Then she asked my
opinion about women practising music, should they hold a guitar.
I said they should; there was nothing wrong with women being
part of a band. They (the girls who formed Pragaash) were well dressed, within
the garb of religious teachings.
Sufism is part of the culture of Jammu and Kashmir and they
didn't have to let it go.
I said we have to take the middle road; we can allow girls to
pursue their dreams, but there should not be a show of vulgarity or obscenity.
About women's safety I said we live in a patriarchal society
in India and we have to work at two levels: Give women confidence and teach them
self-defence skills in schools, improve lighting on the roads, sensitise the
police and regulate obscenity in the movies.
I quoted research done by a very popular NGO in Delhi that
said pornography does have an impact on the minds of young men.
On women empowerment I told them that education is the basic
tool which will empower women, make them financially independent, help them make
the right choices.
Your success mantras...
Believe in your capabilities. That gives you the conviction
and the perseverance required to achieve your aims.
Discipline is very important because you have to overcome
Sticking to your plan and working towards your goal is very
important if you want to achieve something in life.
Consistency is yet another attribute that helps.
I remember not having taken out a book and not read it. I
would take out a book each day and definitely read two or three pages of course
material every day so that I did not lose the enthusiasm for studying.
What is the reason behind more candidates cracking the UPSC
from Jammu and Kashmir?
It all began with Dr Shah Faesal and you are likely to see it
becoming more prominent in the coming years.
After I cracked my state civil services exam I started
teaching at a coaching institute for some time. I could see the enthusiasm in
the youth. Even students who had not completed their graduation came for UPSC
It all started with Dr Shah Faesal because he was the first
person from J&K to top the civil service exam. He has been the prime motivation,
coming as he does from a very humble background.
There are a lot of senior IAS officers serving the state who
have motivated the youth with their counselling sessions, guiding aspirants on
Facebook, e-mail, through mobile phones and that is how the trend started.
Yesterday (on May 7, four days after Dr Salam got her UPSC
rank) a couple of small children came visiting -- must be Class V or VII -- from
the neighbourhood and they were so enthusiastic.
They came over to congratulate me and they said 'Didi, we
also want to become IAS, KAS (Kashmir Administrative Service) and IPS'.
Right from their childhood children are getting into it. They
feel they are going to make a big difference.
Once they become civil servants they can make a big
difference to the valley and the state.
Your message for India's youth...
I would advise them to serve the country in whatever capacity
If you are a professional or into the civil services or a
farmer or doctor or lawyer or journalist... you should make efforts to
contribute something the nation's development at your own level and in whatever
way you can.
Only through small contributions can a big change be
experienced at the national level.
How do you look forward to your future?
Life is a struggle and this was one hurdle that I crossed.
Now that I have qualified in the UPSC exam, the struggle is
going to continue.
I will work with integrity and more so being a woman I would
be able to relate with other women, understand their problems.
Empathy is very important to understand women's problems and
make a change in their lives.
Whatever challenges I will face in the future as part of
nation building I will face them with honesty and dedication.
So you are prepared for whatever comes your way?
I had already made up my mind no matter what rank I get in
the UPSC exam I would join the services.
It hardly matters if you get IAS or any other allied service
because I want to be the part of the system and contribute to nation building in
whatever position I get.
I want to serve the nation and it would be a failure on my
part having worked so hard for two years and not joining the services.
Cracking the UPSC has boosted my confidence. I would
definitely appear again for the UPSC exam and try to improve my rank.
Courtesy : Rediff.com