“This is my country and it is my responsibility to change it for the better.”
Ira Singhal’s statement after becoming the IAS topper for the year 2014 says it all. It was this lofty dream that motivated her to become AIR number 1 despite being physically challenged. Singhal has scoliosis (curvature of the spine) that restricts her arm movement. That was her fourth attempt at the UPSC civil services. She had previously written the exams in 2010, 2011 and 2013. In the first three attempts, she got into IRS. She was even given a posting with the IRS (Indian Revenue Service) but was prevented from joining due to her 62 per cent locomotor disability. Then she filed a case with the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) which she won. Then in 2014, she became the first physically challenged woman to get the first rank in the general category. (She never used her PH status for any reservation.) She currently serves as the Assistant Collector (trainee) with the Government of Delhi. She was 31 when she got AIR number 1 in the UPSC civil services exam. This shows how factors like age and disability are not barriers when it comes to the IAS dream. All it takes is hard work, single-minded determination, passion and fierce will never to give up.
Ira Singhal Background
Singhal pursued her B.Tech from Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology, New Delhi and her MBA from Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi. She did her schooling from Sophia Girls School, Meerut and Loreto Convent School, Delhi.
She had previously worked with Cadbury India as a strategy manager and interned in marketing with the Coca Cola Company.
Ira Singhal gives the following suggestions to UPSC civil services aspirants in writing answers.
- Write answers in points wherever possible.
- Underline what you feel is important.
- Include diagrams if needed.
- Attempt only those questions whose answers you are sure of. You cannot fool the examiner.
- Don’t harp too much on the word count.
- Use headings and sub-headings if necessary.
- Write grammatically correct sentences. Take care of your spellings. Write in simple language.
Also read | More UPSC success stories
Gist of Ira Singhal’s preparation strategy
- Never learned anything by rote. Prepared only those topics that she was comfortable with.
- Read the NCERT text books multiple times.
- Went online for study material and checked multiple websites for different perspectives.
- Debated with friends which gave her multiple viewpoints and improved her analytical ability as well.
- Focused on finishing a portion of course material rather than fixating on the number of hours studied.
- Never isolated herself for her UPSC civil services preparation. Indulged in her many hobbies.
According to Singhal, the decision to take the UPSC exams should be a personal one, to find success in it. She doesn’t recommend doing it for parents or friends or even for your ego. She also considers it wise to have an alternate career path ready before taking up the civil services. This would act as a safety net keeping in mind the unpredictable nature of the civil services. Also, she regards the maturity and worldview you get while working to be invaluable.
Ira Singhal’s story is an inspiring one for many civil services aspirants across the country. She has proved that with tenacity and self-confidence, anyone can cross any hurdles to reach their dream goal. She is a winner because she never gave up despite all the odds stacked up against her. She epitomises M.E.Kerr’s saying –
“Obstacles are challenges for winners and excuses for losers.”