Sadaf Choudhary from Roorkee, Uttarakhand, has scored 23rd rank in the recently declared results of the UPSC for Civil services 2020. She is the topper among Muslims, 31 of whom have cleared the coveted examination. Ratna Shukla Anand of Awaz-e-Khawateen spoke to Sadaf about her success. Excerpts from the conversation:
Who gets the credit for your success?
I want to give credit to my family. Parents often make sacrifices for their children; mine is no different. My Parents made sure I study well. My youngest sister who is studying at Delhi University would always accompany me and help; she too has contributed to my success.
Tell me about your background…
I come from a backward area. Initially, I faced a lot of problems. Women do go to schools in Amroha (UP) but women empowerment is very less. However, I had a passion for reading, and both my parents are very supportive. I did my 12th from Amroha. Recently we shifted to Roorkee. People had problems with me joining engineering college and staying in a hostel. They would ask me how would you stay alone? But I was clear that I must do it and, in the end, everyone supported me and I reached Jalandhar (B Tech). I was there for 4 years. I visited home alone. That experience taught me to be independent, plan and manage finances.
After graduating in 2016, I worked with American Bank. I got the job offer in campus placement on the first day. I already had Civil Services in my mind; maybe it was there since childhood.
in Delhi University. Everywhere she always used to go, she used to stand by me for every work, she also has a big contribution. Though I knew the success rate of Civil services is very low, even those who don’t make it become successful in life. I knew that if I don’t succeed, I would have to marry someone.
That's the reason I picked a job. I wanted to be independent. After working for two-and-a-half years and becoming financially independent, I left the job and started preparing for UPSC at home.
Amroha is a small place; how did you think of a career path while living there?
I was always fond of reading and writing. I would read newspapers to see how in a rural area a DM interacts with the public. Somewhere I developed a perception that I have to do something to changes People's lives.
Tell us about your struggle?
There is always an unseen barrier in everyone's life. We, girls, have to fight more to overcome that. You have to fight to go to a good school; to a good college and to lead an independent life. When you get a job in a metro city you are asked how will you manage alone. Parents have concerns about security and this is another barrier. In all girls have to struggle more than boys.
What do you want to do for the people? Have you thought about something?
Two issues have been very close to my heart No. 1 women empowerment because I see a lot in my area and the community that I come from. There is no attention to education, there is poor infrastructure. Besides, I would like to work on the rural-urban divide. 70% of our population lives in rural areas where their basic needs are yet to be met. Unless these people are not encouraged our country cannot develop.
Women are coming into UPSC and Muslim girls are also progressing. How will you help them?
Education, a career, and Labour Force Participation are equally important for all communities. So are these for the women. These can encourage them in making their own decisions. When a woman knows about her rights, she feels independent. This is very important.
When women get awareness about their rights, they will also raise their demand and this is what we call demand and supply situation. People don't even know what they deserve and what their basic rights are. I think the government needs to bring change at the very structure level. Our community and, at the individual level, we need to take responsibility. I will try to bring change by being a part of the change.
Most of the people join coaching and you studied at home. What was the difference?
My optional subjects for finals were Political Science and International Relations. I had a lot of interest in them. When I saw the syllabus and the book, I felt that I could study on my own. While preparing for UPSC, I was at home and didn't have social interaction. I would hang out occasionally.
I studied at least 8 hours every day. If one day I studied only for six hours I made sure the next day I studied for 10. Anyone can achieve success by dividing a big target into small targets, no matter how difficult it seems, it is achievable.
And this was my second attempt. I had missed it last time by one mark. I was very sad. I worked harder this time; even cleared RBI.
Generally, it is said that it’s not only hard work but a strategy also that is needed to clear the UPSC. What was your strategy?
I agree that hard work is important but smartness helps more. Smartness is when you see what people are doing, check out the strategy and find out what is best for you since every person has different strengths and weaknesses. So, you make your strategy accordingly and modify it if needed.
Tell me about your family.
We hail from Roorkee. My father was posted in a Bank in Amroha and thus we were a nuclear family, I got exposure to different cultures. I was always secular and had an open upbringing.
Never did we face any problem in adjusting to other cultures. I have lived in Punjab and Delhi too. Working with a US Bank was a different experience and exposure to a new culture. My parents taught me to analyze everything critically and adopt what is good. Upbringing matters a lot as it’s reflected in one's behaviour.
What is your perception of New India?
There are 20% girls in civil services and only 15% girls in politics, so representation is still very low. A new India is being built, a beginning has already been made. But we think we still have to work on this. When you keep working on it even then there is no equality. We see changes in policy to incorporate the interests of all sections. Only this will make a new India. There is no way that half of the population can be kept out of the strategy of New India/ Only by taking everyone along, the dream of a new India will be fulfilled.
As a woman what important point would you like to emphasize?
Public participation is very important be it in policy formulation or execution. Feedback should be taken from the ground. That is a better way of governance. We have to work at the micro-level, the government is taking a lot of initiatives, we have started doing social audits, etc., which are very useful in MNREGA. But I think there is still a lot of scope for field-level functionaries and officials to reorient themselves.
How is the celebration going on?
A lot of people are coming home and this is getting me disturbed. There is a festive atmosphere in the house; everyone is very happy and I hope I will keep making people proud about my work in the future.