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A Doctor then, now the first ever Kashmiri woman UPSC achiever

While for many in Kashmir, cracking the MBBS entrance test is a dream come true, it was Ruveda Salam who even after completing her MBBS had a die-hard craving to achieve more. Hailing from a far flung area of Kupwara, 110 Kilometres way from Srinagar, this girl next door not only dreamt but succeeded in making it large as well. 27 year old Ruveda Salam last month became the first ever Kashmiri woman to find a place in the prestigious Indian Administrative Services (IAS) list. With no formal coaching guidance for one of the most difficult exams on a national level, Ruveda ranked 820 on the list. Attributing the success achieved to her hardwood and parental support, Ruveda hopes to achieve more. She recently re-appeared for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam in order to improve her rank. Bringing to you Ruveda Salam, in conversation with this reporter KHURRAM RASOOL.
Excerpt from the interview:

KHURRAM RASOOL: Tell us something about your childhood, family background and the place you were born.
RUVEDA SALAM: I actually belong to a small village called ‘Ferken’ in district Kupwara. I shifted to Srinagar as soon as I got posted as KAS officer in district in Budgum in 2011. My father, Salamuddin Bajad is former Deputy Director General and my mother Roashan Ara is a Headmaster in school education department.

K R: Enlighten us about your schooling and education.
R S: I did my +2 schooling from Mallinson Girls School, qualified my MBBS from Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar in 2009. In 2010, I completed my house job from Bone and Joint Hospital Srinagar. And qualified KAS exams couple of years back in 2011.

K R: Awards and recognitions, if any.
R S: Yes, a number of them. I have won many inter-school quiz competitions, essay writing competitions and debate competitions during my school days. I also received the ‘Best Fresher’ award in Medical College in 2004. I have a distinction in pathology and pharmacology. Besides, I also achieved 2nd position in MBBS and 5th rank in all India United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) GK test.

K R: How does it feel to be the first woman from valley to make it to the IAS list?
R S: It feels out of this world. A great feeling of achievement especially proving those wrong who think women are slaves of circumstances and cannot pursue their dreams with constancy of purpose. I actually feel happier for proving such people wrong.

K R: What was your first reaction after knowing that you made it to the elite list?
R S: I was expecting my success as my UPSC interview went quite well. But the moment I saw my name in the list, my happiness new no bounds. This year the exam was quite a tough job to qualify. One of my optional subjects i.e. ‘public administration’ took a beating in terms of the tough questions asked in IAS mains. That made it all the more happy and proud moment for me.

K R: How confident were you of cracking the exam?
R S: I was pretty confident but my confidence level increased after qualifying the preliminary exams. In addition to this I believe that the more you study, the more confident you become. Same was the case with me. Although my personal decision and circumstances prevented me from taking any private coaching/tutorials, it didn't affect my faith in hard work.

K R: What as a child had you aimed or wished to become in future?
R S: As a school going kid, my choices regarding career varied from time to time. But I confess I was very well aware about civil services right from the beginning. I was very much inspired by my father who has served as a central Government employee with utmost dedication and integrity.

K R: Now that you are the first Kashmiri woman who made it to the list, have the expectations and pressure increased on your part?
R S: Yes. Expectations in terms of delivering to the best of my ability have risen and that was expected, it is nothing surprising. But I believe I can surely and smoothly overcome the pressure as I have a firsthand experience of dealing with public patiently as a KAS officer. The only difference now is that I will be serving on a wider platform; therefore putting in my best efforts will be my sole objective.

K R: There are very few Kashmiri women who take administrative services as a serious career option. What according to you must be the reason?
R S: Yes, that is very unfortunate though. Women usually don't get to pursue higher education firstly because of preconceived notions in our society. And secondly due to lack of finances which hamper their prospects of realizing their career related goals. Even those who complete their graduation either marry early or take up a job which is considered to be exclusively for women. But with the passage of time, things are changing slowly, so are career options among women. Nowadays I am seeing a sea change in the perception of women towards civil service which is a healthy trend as women are required in such positions to influence gender sensitive policies.

K R: Reason for shifting from medicine to administration.
R S: I had made up my mind during my college days itself to become a civil servant. I always had aptitude for civil services and was good in negotiating and leading my fellow batch mates in college as a batch representative. Medicine just happened to me and being a graduate in any field is a primary requirement for civil services.

K R: Most difficult phase, if any during or after you decide to change the course of your career.
R S: Many questions were raised by my friends in college and my relatives regarding my decision to quit medicine but I had my family's support. At times it became difficult to prove my point of view but my success in KAS and now IAS has proved them wrong.

K R: Biggest strength?
R S: Faith in God.

K R: Most challenging task.
R S: I have faced many. Although I believe this is just a beginning and the tougher ones are yet to come. Nonetheless, I am ready to face any challenging task whatsoever comes along the way.

K R: Key Goal, next target, future plans?
R S: The key goal in my life has and will always remain to excel in whatever I decide to do in life. Yet to keep believing in myself and deliver to the best of my abilities are my future plans.

K R: Mentor or most admired person?
R S: My parents.

K R: Hobbies, favorite pastime?
R S: I enjoy poetry and love to write few couplets in both English and Urdu. I also enjoy watching realistic movies that are based on human struggle.

K R: Will things change in any way after you get married and settle down?
R S: It's quite tough for a working woman to balance her career with her family. But my mother has been one such woman and I have grown up seeing her doing quite well on this front. Things can turn positive if a woman has full support of her family. I don't want to live with the regret of having come this far and not doing a job after marriage. That won’t be fair to my own self and my abilities. So, I will continue to work hopefully even after I get married.

K R: Any advice to young Kashmiri women who like you want to make it to the prestigious IAS list.
R S: I would like to suggest all the young women of Kashmir to turn your handicaps in terms of lack of access to career opportunities into strengths. A woman should never get bogged down by the perceptions of society at large. Character assassination especially of working women is the work of fickle minds. What ultimately matters is you yourself and your abilities. Remember, you all are second to none. So prove your worth in every field you choose. All the best.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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