The steeper climb for female aspirants to civil services

Thounaojam Luwangamba
Every year female aspirants from Manipur crack the prestigious UPSC Civil services examination. The other side of this proud achievement is that many female aspirants also quit their dreams of cracking this exam and are left behind. In many cases, it is not because they lack the capabilities, but due to the strong undercurrent/unseen societal pressure which discourages many female aspirants of Manipur. For someone who has been in the CSE coaching/mentoring profession for three years, I share few profound disadvantages and few suggestions to negate these disadvantages.
Disadvantage #1
In our counselling sessions for both male and female aspirants, a clear pattern emerges which shows the disadvantageous position of female aspirants in comparison to their male counterparts.  UPSC CSE preparation demands consistency in day-to-day preparation, the number of hours in a day is an important criterion of UPSC preparation. Consistently applied, such days turn to weeks and months and the examination. But the daily hour for dedicated preparation available to a female and male aspirant differs significantly. Every day a male aspirant exceeds a female aspirant’s dedicated preparation by at least 2/3 hours. These 2/3 hours a day in a year amounts to ~ 900 hours in a year, which is ~37 days per year which is a little more than a month in a year. The male candidates have a month start/a month advantage over many female aspirants competing in the same exam. This disadvantage is due to a female aspirant’s household commitment to cooking, doing dishes and other chores like sweeping, cleaning and prayer rituals which are generally regarded as the ‘duties’ of a woman in our society.
In addition to the time lost, there is also the energy spent and the distraction after such chores to the female candidates. Thus in this area of daily preparation, many male candidates have a clear advantage over the female candidates.
Every female aspirant should consider this important aspect in their preparation and planning and must acknowledge the advantages her competitors enjoy over her in this matter. Also, the family members who expect successful results from their daughters should acknowledge such disadvantages. The best solution to eliminate this disadvantage is an out-of-state/hostel preparation for those financially capable and those privileged with favourable circumstances. Eg. In Delhi, a female aspirant gets the same time/energy as every other serious competitor. Those incapable of such out-of-state preparation/hostel preparation due to financial issues or circumstances should utilize facilities like the library where they can get dedicated, focused, undisturbed preparation for at least 3/4 quality hours. Also, if they can afford it and if convenient they should choose to stay in hostels where they can get the required hours of dedicated preparations. They should also talk to their family members and try to highlight these issues and come to a favourable solution for their quality preparation.
Disadvantage #2
The age limit for appearing in the UPSC Civil Services Exam is 32 years for General and EWS, 35 years for OBC and 37 years for SC/ST. Also, the number of attempts for General  and EWS is 6, 9 attempts for OBC and Unlimited attempts for SC/ST (up to age limit). These conditions are where the 2nd disadvantages for female aspirants lie. Most of them made the mistake of thinking that they have the years and number of attempts for this exam. However in reality this is not so, especially for those in their late 20s. After a few unsuccessful attempts and as they approach their 30s, they start getting the societal pressure of marriage, jobs etc. Thus, in reality, for many higher aged female candidates, the upper-year limit and the total number of attempts are just mere illusions that hinder their UPSC CSE preparation calculation. On one hand, they are NOT serious about their preparation thinking they have the age and the attempts, but in reality irrespective of the number of attempts left and the age, external pressures on job, marriage etc build up and take over and end their CS dream career.
This disadvantage is evident from our observation as well as students highlighting it in their counselling sessions. Before we suggest how to handle such pressure, we also find many students whose parents, partners, employers are supportive and put no such pressures on these candidates in pursuing their CS dream. But for those who have been in this situation, we suggested they make a deal with their parents and themselves. The sole purpose is to reduce external as well as internal pressure to the aspirant herself. “Give me 2/3 years of uninterrupted preparation and if nothing happens with the result, I will settle for other jobs or even marriage irrespective of the number of attempts and years left” kind of deals can be looked into. Such deals and understanding will ease the societal pressure because of the certainty it creates and can also give the female aspirant a sense of committed purpose. This can also reduce disadvantage #1. Also, those female aspirants who are in their early 20s should consider this factor and take seriously their preparation from the start itself.
Disadvantage #3
The inability of the MPSC to conduct MPSCCSE 2016 without scandals/issues/controversies has wreaked havoc on many aspirants’ dreams and careers, especially to the female candidates. The resolution process for that exam is still ongoing, which effectively blocks the conduct of MPSC CSE examinations including the MPSC CSE 2016.  Apart from the above-mentioned impact on aspirants’ careers and the administrative vacuum and deficiencies it create on State administration, the most neglected and unspoken issue of the whole episode is the serious impact it has on female aspirants’ civil service dreams and careers. Imagine a female aspirant (both selected and non-selected) who gave the MPSC CSE 2016 at the age of 27/28 years. Nearly 5 years have passed, and most of them are now 32/33 years old. It can be assumed that most of them are married by now and have selected other jobs/professions. Even if MPSC CSE 2016 and the consequent MPSC CSE examinations give age relaxation, it would be hardly a fair competition for these married female aspirants with the responsibility of children, home and family. Thus, they have been rightly robbed of their fair chance of competition to become a Civil servant of the State.
The early resolution of MPSC CSE 2016 and the timely conduct of MPSC CSE examinations in the future without controversies/issues should at least ensure the present MPSC female aspirants a fair chance to their Civil services dream and career. The MPSC should take up the responsibility and should be made accountable for the exam it conducts. The people and the society as a whole must realize the importance of a competent and accountable MPSC. To end the article on a positive note, female aspirants need not feel discouraged at these odds. The saying “Where there is a will, there is a way” is valid even today. Sometimes, parents, family, society take things for granted, and these disadvantages are easy to miss in their eyes. So talking things out, communicating your career goals, ambitions and aspirations to the right people helps. So, convey/communicate your CS aspirations to your parents, family, partners and even your employers and request/demand their cooperation in your CS journey. Also, these odds can be levelled out by sheer determination and character. Trying to develop these and improve your overall personality and health will give you the confidence to overcome these odds. Also, quality exam preparation will enhance your chances of cracking the CSE exam.
Our society should acknowledge that women are already at a disadvantageous position vis-avis their male counterparts on many career/professional fronts. Let us not add another disadvantage to that list that affects her career, dreams and goals. Let us be aware of these  unseen inequalities and odds our daughters/sisters/friends/wives are facing in pursuing their dreams and goals. Let us be cooperative, considerate and empathetic.

The views expressed and the suggestions given are personal.

The writer is Founder, MAHEI Civil Services Institute