By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI: Kashmir is in news again, with its resident Dr. Shah Faesal (27) having topped the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Examination. With Faesal being the first Kashmiri to have topped the all-India elite services examination, the state is delighted â€“ celebrating his success as their own. Enthusiastic Kashmiris burst crackers, beat drums and shouted slogans welcoming Faesal when he returned to Srinagar on Friday (May 7), a day after the results were declared. â€œKashmir ka sitara, Faesal hamara (Kashmirâ€™s star, our Faisal),â€ hailed the delighted Kashmiris. Faesal ranks first among the 875 candidates declared successful in the civil services examination. He reached the top in his maiden attempt, putting behind him around 409,110 candidates who had applied for the examination in 2009.
Crediting his success to God and his familyâ€™s support, Faesal said: â€œI am humbled. I had faith in my hard work, Allahâ€™s grace and the blessings of my family. My mother, brother and sister equally share the honor as they supported me like a rock when I decided to sit for the most coveted exams in the country.â€
Faesalâ€™s father Ghulam Rasool Shah was killed by militants in 2002. But rather than be cowed down or feel defeated, Faesal and his family moved on to face the challenges lying ahead. Within days of his fatherâ€™s murder, the first test that Faesal appeared for was the professional entrance examination for MBBS. He cleared it. But he was not satisfied by being just a medical doctor and decided to take the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) examination. â€œI saw patients who had no money to purchase medicines, a large number of them. I wanted to make differences for them. I thought IAS will help me to contribute in a different way,â€ he said.
Crediting his late father, a respected schoolteacher, for his success, Faesal said: â€œMany things that my father taught me for my class XI helped me in the exams.â€ If only his father were also around to share his joy, as Faesal said: â€œI am missing him today.â€
Faesal hails from a remote village in frontier Kupwara district, more than 90 km from Srinagar. Soon after his fatherâ€™s death, sense of insecurity gripped his family. â€œSuch was the level of fear that I had not visited my home for eight years,â€ Faesal said. His mother Mubeena Begum migrated to Srinagar with her three children. She worked here as a schoolteacher to help her children live a better life. For her, Faesalâ€™s success is â€œlike a new birth.â€
Though he has always been an achiever, his mother and Faesal himself had not imagined his being a topper. Faesal had expected to be in the first 50. Jubilant at being the topper, Faesal said: â€œThere was nothing in my background that would make anybody think that I can achieve this. But I did it. So can thousands of other students with similar difficult backgrounds.â€ Faesal feels that his â€œsuccessâ€ is not just his â€œown.â€ â€œI feel I have broken the jinx that Kashmiri students cannot reach the top. I am the first from Jammu and Kashmir to top this examination and I am sure my story will become a model for our students who fear to dream big. I am an orphan with a scarred childhood. There was a tragedy in my family, my father was killed. I was raised by my mother who is a schoolteacher. I belong to a far-flung village and I studied in a government school.â€
Faesal prepared for the examinations â€œnormally.â€ â€œI did not find it difficult. I studied normally and passed my prelims without coaching. It was after qualifying for the mains that I decided to go for coaching,â€ Faesal said. The three-phase examination requires passing the preliminary test. Those who clear the prelims have to appear for the main written examinations, after passing which they face the final stage – the interview. Faesal selected Public Administration and Urdu Literature for the mains. He opted for Urdu as he is â€œemotionally attached to the language.â€ He received coaching at the Jamia Hamdard Study Center, New Delhi. Among the first to congratulate him in Delhi on his success were senior officers, including the Jamia Chancellor and many students.
Endless streams of people continued streaming in at his residence in Srinagar and the phone there did not stop ringing. J&K Governor N.N. Vohra congratulated Faesal and invited him and his mother to Raj Bhawan for felicitation. Among others, who congratulated Faesal were J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and leader of opposition in State Assembly, Mehbooba Mufti.
Back home, his villagers burst crackers and began preparations to celebrate Faesalâ€™s success. Describing it as a great event for the entire Kashmir Valley, Mir Fayaz, a lecturer said: â€œWe are proud of his success. He will be a role model for the youngsters and a source of inspiration too.â€
Faesalâ€™s success proves that Kashmiri talent was â€œunmatched,â€ according to Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. â€œWherever Kashmiris have worked, they have excelled. I am proud of Faesal, who hails from a remote village. He has worked so hard and made us real proud,â€ he said.
Faesal is confident that his success will â€œchange the mindset of ordinary Kashmiris.â€ If they work hard enough, â€œnothing is impossible,â€ Faesal said. Though he is ready to be posted anywhere, Faesal is keen to serve his community. â€œI want to contribute in my small way to peace of Kashmir,â€ he said. â€œIf Kashmiris need anything â€“ it is peace, since the people have lot of expectations from the government as an agent of change and guarantor of peace, and myself being a part of the government, Iâ€™ll definitely be trying my bit on that regard,â€ he said.
The Right to Information (RTI) Act is another area that is extremely close to Faesalâ€™s heart. He has been an RTI activist since his college days. In his opinion: â€œThe RTI act is a harbinger of change. We can make a difference if we know how to use it.â€
Two other Kashmiris have succeeded in civil services examination. They are Rayees Mohammad Bhat (rank 124) and Showkat Ahmad Parray (256). Faesal, Bhat and Parray are three of the 20 Muslims who have passed this competitive examination. Headlines are focused on Kashmir for a change on news that has nothing to do with conflict. Faesal has created history by bringing Kashmir in limelight by being the UPSC topper!