Among the five National Law School Delhi Graduates who have made it to the merit list of the UPSC Civil Service Examination, 2017 is Ms. Saumya Sharma. She has managed to beat all odds and secure 9th rank in her first attempt. However, this isn’t the first time that she has made headlines.
Back in 2016, when she was a final year student, Saumya had drawn the attention of the Delhi High Court towards the advertisement notifying the Delhi Judicial Services Examination, 2015 and the ‘important instructions’ annexed thereto. The advertisement had limited the relaxation of 10 years in the upper age limit and horizontal reservation of 3% available to the Physically Handicapped candidates to only the visually and orthopedically-disabled.
So persuasive was her letter, and so cogent were her arguments that the relaxations were made available to those with hearing impairments, without any litigation, by Chief Justice G. Rohini in her administrative capacity.
Saumya is also the founder of ‘Enable’, a group representing students with disabilities at NLU Delhi. As an initial agenda of the group, the group focuses on orthopedic, hearing, and visual impairment. Having cracked the UPSC now, she is sure to bring about more positive change in the system. Here is an exclusive interview with her:
Hi Saumya! Many congratulations on cracking the civil services! Let us start from the beginning. When did you decide that you wanted to make a career in civil services?
Saumya Sharma: Thank you for your wishes! Civil services, especially the Indian Administrative Service, appealed to me as an appropriate platform to serve the society. I decided that I want a career in the civil services towards the end of my 3rd year of college.
During college, what extracurricular activities did you take part in that helped in your overall development?
Saumya Sharma: I ensured that I experienced the different opportunities that law school had to offer. I was part of the team that went to represent our university in the Warsaw Negotiation Round in 2015. I won a National Legislative Drafting Competition in 2014, which I had taken part in with my friend. I also tried my hand at mooting- I was part of the team that went to the HNLU Moot in 2014. I assisted Dr. Aparna Chandra as a research assistant for a Law Commission of India working paper in 2015. In my first year of college, I was part of the Hostel Welfare Committee and was also a volunteer for Aaghaz, an educational initiative where students from our university used to teach kids from the neighboring basti. I was also part of the IDIA disability vertical in 2013-14.
In addition, I interned with different organizations. The exposure at law school certainly helped me immensely with my preparation for the civil services exam.
When did you start preparing for the civil services?
Saumya Sharma: I formally started my preparation in February 2017. However, prior to that, I had read certain books on India which ensured that it was easy for me to start studying for the examination. My newspaper reading habit, which I formed during my early years, also helped with my preparation.
Since you had comparatively lesser time for the preparations than most others who were to appear for the exam, how did you go about the studies?
Saumya Sharma: The lack of time on my hands served as a blessing in disguise as it motivated me to study more. I started the preparation by firstly reading all the standard textbooks, and then practicing multiple mock tests for the preliminary examination. I changed my daily habits to suit my new schedule of studying for long hours.
What subjects did you choose? What did your daily routine look like?
Saumya Sharma: Those appearing for the examination get to choose one subject of their choice for the Mains examination. I chose law. The other subjects for me remained the same as were for other candidates. My daily routine was not fixed. However, I ensured that my routine revolved around my studies.
How did your background in law help you with the preparation? Do law graduates have any advantage over the others when preparing for the exam?
Saumya Sharma: I think law graduates have a definite advantage when it comes to preparing for the civil services examination. The preliminary examination tests the knowledge of Indian polity, which students of constitutional law have a prior understanding of. Similarly, the General Studies II paper is heavy on polity and governance, which again law students are better placed to answer due to their prior understanding of such issues.
What are some of the challenges that you had to face?
Saumya Sharma: I had to face an ill-timed episode during my week-long mains examination. I fell sick with viral fever. I was lucky enough to have parents who are doctors, who tackled my high fever by getting me intravenous drip infusions thrice a day. It was quite a harrowing experience for me to write my exams in that condition.
However, I consider my journey towards becoming a civil servant as extremely fortunate. The lows make the highs feel even more special.
With regard to the letter that you wrote to the High Court, were the authorities receptive towards it all along? What are some of the other fields that you’d want such improvements in?
Saumya Sharma: The authorities were receptive. Before filing the letter, I met the authorities from the High Court Registry and filed an RTI application. The response I received certainly helped me while framing the letter. Justice Ravindra Bhat of the Delhi High Court, with whom I was interning, was also supportive of the idea of including hearing impaired candidates in the DJS exam. I am thankful for the support I received for my letter from my professors Dr. Anup Surendranath and Dr. Aparna Chandra.
Any field, where the exclusion of persons with disabilities is founded on stereotypes which do not hold true, needs an overhaul. It is extremely important to include persons with disabilities in the growth story of our nation. Students with disabilities even face troubles while looking for internships and jobs due to lack of accessibility features such as ramps, elevators and tactile signs. To change the state of things, it is also very important that the private sector takes initiative to include and encourage the participation of persons with disabilities in the workforce.
Tell us more about ‘Enable’. What are some of the changes that you’d now like to bring in for the disabled?
Saumya Sharma: Enable is a student group based out of NLU Delhi. Its primary aim is to act as a support group for the students with disabilities on campus. The second objective is to conduct awareness activities to change perspectives that are traditionally associated with the disabled.Ever since my graduation, the juniors are doing a wonderful job of running it.
Some of the changes I would love to see are- inclusive education (use of appropriate aids, such as subtitles for videos, wherever possible) and inclusive employment. The most imperative change that is needed is a change in the attitude with which the society looks at someone with a disability. Not sympathy or pity, but empathy and understanding is needed. A positive social experience is very important to ensure that persons with disability don’t feel inferior about themselves. And to ensure that, each one of us in society has an important role to play.
What is your message for all the law students and graduates who aspire to crack the civil services some day?
Saumya Sharma: Be sincere with your studies. Sincerity and dedication towards your goal are extremely important for success. I would also advise you to do internships and take part in extra-curricular activities to fully utilize the rich experience a law school education has to offer.