Beating The Odds: The inspiring story of Ms. Pooja Jha, AIR 82, who cracked UPSC Civil Services Exam 2021 in FIRST ATTEMPT!

What do you think is the motivation of a civil services aspirant when he/she embarks on the journey of one of the toughest examinations in the world? The answers could vary from social status, stable career, charm of civil services with respect to variety of roles one gets to play, etc. But these were not the quest of Ms. Pooja Jha, who has cracked the Civil Services Exam 2021 in her very first attempt and become an IFS officer.  

Her motivation was very different as she was fighting a battle to assert her existence – to achieve gender equality at home. She wanted to give a better future to herself and showcase to her family that even a girl child could be the strength of a family. 

The inspiring story of Pooja’s will and courage – UPSC Toppers CSE 2021

The son meta-preference: In Indian society, there is a preference for a male child as a son is seen as support of the old age and girl child is considered as part of someone else’s family. Unfortunately, Pooja’s family also had this deeply engrained in their minds and she was born into this family due to the desire to have a son. So, she is the fifth girl child of the family and all of us can imagine what kind of love was showered on her when she was born. It won’t be wrong to say that she was part of a family which was desperately looking for a boy child. Thankfully their quest ended soon, and the family had a boy the very next time. 

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She wanted equality: Pooja realized that her brother’s birthday was celebrated with lots of fun and zest but her and her sisters’ birthday was not celebrated. She found a way to solve this inequality. She observed that every year when she performed well in her school’s annual exams, she was loved and respected by everyone. So, she started to celebrate her success every year and started to believe that the day of result is her birthday which everyone is celebrating and making her feel special. This approach of hers paved the foundation of life she was going to pursue and standing first in the class became her habit.

She challenged the norm: Pooja is the only girl in the family who has studied beyond intermediate, and all her sisters were married off by the age of 18-19 only. Her father works as a peon and the family income is meagre at best. She studied in the schools run by the MCD and completed her intermediate with flying colours. She worked very hard and cleared a seat in Dentistry for the prestigious Maulana Azad Institute of Medical Sciences of Delhi. She knew that she had the potential to clear the seat for MBBS as well but driven by the need to pursue education at the earliest, she put her heart and soul in the course and stood first in all the four years of the course. 

She dared to dream: When Pooja was growing up, she read about the civil services exam and how this exam can be a tool of social mobility that she wanted for herself and her family. However, her father and mother had no idea what civil services exam is and how to prepare for that. After completing her course in dentistry, when she revealed her desire to take the civil services exam then the family was not supportive. She was expected to take up work as a dentist and start contributing financially towards the family. This was a very tough situation, but she is no stranger to troubles. She started to prepare for the exam in 2019 and everyone in her social group started to point at her that why she is not working and contributing to family income.

She overcame fear of failure: Pooja wanted to become a civil servant, but she had very little idea about how to prepare for the exam. She explored it further and she understood that this exam is tough and may require more than one attempt to clear which she may not afford to take. She qualified Rau’s IAS Scholarship program for Main Revision, Test Series and Mentorship Program and reached out to the mentor. Mr. Mangal Singh, who is a Senior faculty, was there to guide her. The first question that she had was, “Can this exam be cleared in one attempt?” Mr. Singh helped her by assuring that she can do it and connected her to Ms. Divya Mishra (AIR-28 in UPSC CSE-2020) for helping her in essay and with other subject matter experts in Rau’s ecosystem to help her in every single aspect of examination.

She wrote her destiny: Working harder than what she has ever done in the past and being systematic in her approach, she conquered all odds to become an IFS officer that she always wanted to become. This dream of becoming a civil servant is almost a decade old but it took her just one honest and sincere attempt to crack the UPSC exam in first attempt. She now feels most loved one in the family and her family is getting loads of attention and respect which they have not witnessed in the past. She shared that her father is a peon in an organization and has never met the company’s owner in last 38 years of his service. But when she achieved the top rank, the owner of the company called his father to congratulate him for the grand success of his daughter. He also promised that he will visit their house and felicitate the girl.

She has overcome all odds: There are many who want to prepare for the UPSC exam and become civil servants and they all face different kind of challenges. What we can learn from Pooja’s journey is that nothing is impossible if you put your heart and soul into it. One more thing that we would like to highlight that Pooja always surpassed the expectations by a big margin. On one occasion when she was given a task to write one essay, she wrote two. This shows the greatness of her effort. We are fortunate that she will be part of the Steel Frame of India and she will be part of policies and decision making which will make India more equal, more accommodative, and more respecting towards women. She is actually the face of confident women of new India, and she will soon be representing India at all the major international platforms. 

If you wish to learn more about her story, then click here.

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