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I Made Quite A Few Mistakes, But This Is How I Cleared The UPSC Exam At 22

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By Shivashankar E:

Youngest IFS Officer Shivshankar EIt was during my class 9th summer holidays that one day my father asked me to manage the welding shop for a day, as he had to go out-of-station. That evening when he returned and asked me how much money I had earned, I showed him Rs 20. Looking at this, he said, “This is what one makes per day in a welding shop, I don’t want you to suffer in this shop like me, you have to study well and become an officer.” This was when I first dreamt of becoming an IAS officer.

With this in mind, I secured 94% in my 10th standard and 92% in the 12th.

Conflict Between Engineering And Medicine:

In the Karnataka Common Entrance Test (CET), I secured 404th rank in engineering and 418th in medicine. Everyone advised me to take up the latter as I was good at academics. However, my father suggested Engineering which takes only four years and I’d be done with it by the time I turn twenty-one. This was the turning point in my life. My father had already inspired me to become the youngest IAS officer in the country.

I am proud and lucky to have such a father, who can think of my future with such clarity (despite himself having studied only till class 9th).

My Days During Engineering:

December 17th, 2012, was the first day when I started preparing for civil services. I referred to almost all UPSC civil service portals and visited almost all IAS coaching centres in Bangalore. I was not in a position to afford the coaching fees that the institutes asked for. However, I did know of a few books that were a must read for civil service exams.

Then, I visited government libraries where aspirants prepared for civil services and I interacted with them. Some interaction was helpful. However, many did not entertain me. Like this, I continued till August 23rd, 2013. Until just the very next day on August 24th, 2013, I met Vinay Kumar – the director of Ethical Minds Academy in Bangalore.

The interaction with him turned the entire course of my preparation. I had found my breakthrough. He was the one who told me about the demands of the civil service examination based on which I prepared for the general exams through a straight stretch of a little more than four months.

Now I was left to decide and prep for the optional paper for which I had planned to take mathematics. However, I felt uncomfortable with my own choice and decided to change the subject.

For this too I had only Vinay Kumar to thank as he helped me finalise on Geography as my optional subject, teaching me as well as helping me understand the strategies that I needed to know to clear the optional paper. My friend, Chandana Vasanth, also helped me a lot with Geography.

My First Attempt In Civil Service:

I graduated as an engineer in June 2014 and attempted the preliminary exam on August 24th, 2014, clearing the paper with relative ease. Then I cleared the civil service mains examination and attended my interview. On July 4th, 2015 my dreams of becoming the youngest IAS officer got shattered as I scored very low in the interview – just 135 out of 275. I missed a rank by a just two marks. It was heartbreaking. To say the least.

First Attempt In Indian Forest Services Exam:

As I was moping about my civil services result, Mr Harish YN (IRS, 2015 batch), advised me to appear for the Indian Forest service exam and I decided to leap at this opportunity. With some, guidance I was able to clear the UPSC Indian Forest Service exam at the age of 22 becoming one of the youngest IFS officers in India.

My IFS Interview

One question which changed the course of my interview was – “tell me some problems encountered by forests in India.” My answer to this was – “Sir, I have not seen any forests as I did not get any opportunity to visit one, so I cannot explain you the practical problems encountered by Indian forests.”

Following my answer, the panel put across another question – “Then why do you want to join Indian Forest Service?” My reply to this was – “I’m from a lower-middle class family, It’s very hard for me to see my father toiling all day in a workshop. I want to make sure I have a respectable job and plan to help my parents lead a stress less happy life.”
I think this was the answer which fetched me a score of 210/300, the second highest score in this year’s IFS interview (highest being 213/300).

My journey to achieve my dreams, to reach where I wanted to, to be the youngest person to clear the UPSC exams were all impeded with practical problems. None of it was a miracle. I failed, mistakes were made but I kept trying. I spoke to people, took advice and acted upon what was available to me. That, I think, is what helped me the most.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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