Till almost two years ago, appearing for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) examination was a distant dream for 27 year-old Salman Patil. The only desire the Solapur native nurtured was to get a job in Mumbai and support his farmer family back home. But today, Patil, who gave the exam in 2011, has secured the 466th rank. Though he is eligible for a posting in the Indian Police Services and the Indian Revenue Services, he is planning to attempt the exam at least another five times, to land a good posting in the IAS.
Patil is not the only one dreaming big. Twenty four year-old Shaikh Majahar Ali, who hails from Udayagiri, a small town in Andhra Pradesh and came from a humble background (his parents are teachers in the local school) now works as a depot manager in the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation. Patil and Ali have been able to do so thanks to the Haj Committee of India’s IAS and Allied Services Coaching and Guidance Cell. Set up in 2009, this is a first-of-its-kind venture undertaken by any central government organisation to train aspirants solely from the Muslim community for the civil services exams.
The brainchild of former chief executive officer of Haj Committee of India, Mohammed Owais, the cell gives a platform to talented students who lack the resources to appear for the civil services. Owais, who now works as a chief security officer with the railways at Itanagar, Bihar, says, “The Rajinder Sachar Committee, appointed in 2005 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was commissioned to prepare a report on the latest social, economic and educational condition of the Muslim community of India. It stated that the economic and educational level of Muslims had deteriorated abysmally.
The community has a shocking two per cent representation in the civil services. That was when we decided to initiate the change ourselves and train students, rather than being dependent on any external agency. ” But it wasn’t an easy task for him to convince the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he admits. “Several ministers including those from the minority community felt it wasn’t the job of the Haj committee to train Muslim aspirants. But my contention was that we had the money and resources to do so. After all, the community itself funds the facilities. So, isn’t it our task to use it for their betterment?”
The training programme
Thirty aspirants are handpicked from across the country after a written test, which is conducted in five centres — Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Patna — in June every year. This is followed by a personal interview. Aspirants have to pay a monthly fee of Rs 2,000, which includes lodging and boarding expenses till they clear the exams, and are put up at the Haj Committee building at Palton Road, Fort. Students belonging to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families get sponsorships from the committee.
Candidates also have free access to the Internet and study material. They are provided coaching and guidance in CSAT-I and CSAT-II for the preliminary exams, while for the main exams, they are trained in general studies, essay writing, history, geography, public administration and Urdu. According to S.A.M Hashmi, ex-principal of Akbar Peer Bhoy College and the director of the training centre, the committee spends as much as a lakh on each student every year for the programme. “The capital expenditure was high as we had to allot two floors to boys and one floor to girls, equip their rooms with basic amenities and furnish the library, computer room and classrooms.”
Though the first year didn’t see any aspirants clearing the preliminary exams, in 2011, two students, Shakeel Mohamed Ansari and Patil, qualified for the prelims. Patil went on to clear the main exam and the interview. Apart from him, there were four students, including Ali, who cleared other competitive exams. The others include Aasar Mahal Javed from Maharashtra who is now working as an assistant central intelligence officer, Kelam Wajid Ali, who is an assistant veterinary officer in Jammu and Kashmir and Khan Mohamed Imtiaz, who is employed with the Food Corporation of India.
Dr Shakir Hussain, CEO of the Haj Committee of India and an unassuming, effervescent man in his late 40s, tells me at his Palton Road office that the programme has been a learning process for the committee itself. “We didn’t get good-quality teachers in the first year. But now we have sought the assistance of Sainathji Study Centre in Pune which specialises in training students for civil services. Lecturers from that centre come here regularly, interact with our students and guide them on how to study.”
According to Hashmi, the civil service exams are based on self-study and the right guidance. “We provide the appropriate environment to the students. Rather than inviting teachers from Mumbai University, we invite students who have attempted these exams earlier because they are the only ones who can guide the aspirants.”
Patil agrees. Over the telephone he tells me, “The candidates hailed from far-flung places such as Kashmir, Uttaranchal and Kerala. While talking to them, I got an opportunity to understand the problems afflicting different states of our country.” Ali, meanwhile, says that he was enthused to apply for other competitive exams and took up the post of depot manager happily. “Today as a depot manager, I handle a work force comprising 1,000 men. I have learnt to make independent decisions and deal with problems. This experience will definitely help me to be an efficient and dynamic civil servant in the future.”
Haj committee authorities admit, however, that they still have a long way to go. The plan was to train 50 students every year, but they have got only 30 in each batch. Hashmi attributes this to a lack of awareness amongst the Muslim community, particularly in Mumbai. “People prefer taking up low-paying jobs that are easier to get rather than dedicating couple of years to the civil services. We want students from across India, but till date, we have got aspirants mainly from Kerala, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal. There is no representation from the eastern states. Also we want to have post-graduate students but have to make do with graduates.”
Plans are now afoot to invite participation from across the country by publicising the cell in popular media. “Till date, we have managed only on the strength of word-of-mouth publicity. But now we are focusing on newspapers ads too. We also want to expand this programme to Haj Committee centres across India so that aspirants have more options,” says Hashmi.