‘What Next’ for UPSC-negatives? Indians with lost youth don’t want to come back empty handed

Rajat Sambyal came to Delhi from Jammu with a dream. And this dream was composed of four alphabets – UPSC. But when the results came this year in May, it felt like the end of the road after six failed attempts and years of sleepless, anxious nights. But some habits are just hard to break. Rajat still lives in Delhi’s UPSC aspirant centre, Old Rajinder Nagar, and breathes the same air with singular ambition alongside his housemates who are still preparing for public service.

“I was numb. I haven’t spoken to anyone. I posted this tweet and fell asleep,” Rajat recalled days after the Union Civil Service Commission (UPSC) 2021 exam result was released. The tweet in question is not the one he had saved in draft. The BE (civil engineering) graduate from PEC University of Technology, Chandigarh was sure he was going to be selected and so he had another tweet ready to announce his success.

“10 years of hard work ended in ashes. 6 UPSC attempts completed. 3 times the preliminaries failed. 2 times power failure. In my last attempt I have now cleared the civil services. Finally placed.

Instead, here’s what he tweeted that day:

Now, the big question for Rajat is, “So what next?

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Raindrops in the ocean

Rajat is not the only person facing this question. Hundreds of thousands of young Indians are chasing the same UPSC chimera and failing. While their passionate and unscrupulous preparatory struggle is well documented and widely recognized, their months and years after UPSC-negative were mostly spent in quiet loneliness, loss of self-esteem and even shame. They look helplessly at their wasted years, having lost what they call the best time of their lives. Some lose their friends and love in this ruthless journey. But it takes them a long time to find their bearings and assemble a new dream.

About 11 lakh aspirants apply for the UPSC exam every year. But only a few hundred – less than 0.01% – succeed. In 2019, over 8 lakh students applied for the preliminaries – only 11,845 students applied for the Mains, 2,034 made it to the interviews and only 927 entered the prestigious world of Indian civil service. This figure fell to 761 public servants in 2020, then to 712 in 2021. From flashy coaching institute billboards to media reports and interviews to family conversations, the journey of toppers and “successes” of the UPSC is told in detail. We rarely hear of the struggles of those who fail at the last hurdle.

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While Rajat is still “finding the path” to his future, some have already done so.

“We embark on this journey when our Josh is at its peak. During my UPSC journey, I lost my youth, my friends and my love. But it’s also true that whatever I am today is because of this journey,” said Amit Kilhore, a teacher at Study IQ, an online platform. Amit spent eight years preparing for UPSC – he gave Mains six times and reached the interview round twice.

“The first two weeks after the result were full of despair. Gradually, I regained my courage. But I was lucky. Few people have better opportunities,” he says.

Priyamvada’s journey was different. Not only did she fight depression caused by exam pressure, but she also had to fight a parallel war with society. “On the one hand, I failed to pass the exam, and on the other hand, there was family pressure to get married. I had to take medication,” says Priyamvada, who She took the UPSC exam five times and in 2020 moved to London to continue her studies.

“After coming out of depression, when I first opened my books, I couldn’t remember anything that I had read earlier. It was very scary for me. But I came out of this hell. I didn’t get married. Now the wheel of my life is in my hands. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that,” she says. She returned to India and started working with the World Wildlife Fund, traveling to remote parts of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh etc. She says she had job opportunities abroad but decided to do something for the good of her country by staying here .

While Amit lost her fearlessness over the years of preparation, Priyamvada said she was freed from fear after failing the UPSC exams.

“But life doesn’t end there. Nothing can be bigger than your life. I fought hard and now I live life without fear,” she says.

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empty handed

A survey conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) revealed that about 12-13% of Indian students suffer from psychological, emotional and behavioral problems.

Professor Om Prakash of the Institute of Human Behavior and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), New Delhi, says many of those who come to him are those preparing for UPSC. “A lot of times they turn to drugs,” he says. “The most important thing for them is to accept that this is just a test, not the end of life. If things get worse, see a doctor. Don’t deal with it alone,” he advises. he.

Because accepting and overcoming the feeling of failure is difficult. “For these children, the only thing that matters is that they pass the exam. There is nothing else. They isolate themselves, live alone, remain unhappy,” says Dr Praveen Tripathi, psychiatrist at Renowa Care, based in Noida. “There are so many groups on Telegram for preparations and study materials. But nothing for people who fail the exam and try to move on.

Amit says he went through a lot after the results. “Each unsuccessful attempt increases the pressure to seek more money from home,” he says.

“No one thinks of the students who have gone through the rigors of this process. UPSC prep does indeed make you a better person, but if you’re not selected, then there’s no market value for all that study,” says Amit. “You study engineering for four years and you graduate. However, if you have only been preparing for UPSC for 10 years, you will not have a degree. When the attempts are over, you are out of the process. The government pushes these students back into society empty-handed,” he says.

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Hard to let go

In order to “reduce the tension and suffering” of candidates who do not pass the exam, then-UPSC President Arvind Saxena recommended the central government in 2019 to consider unsuccessful candidates who reach the interview stage for jobs at other institutions.

The government responded positively. The Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the International Financial Services Centers Authority have opened their doors to these applicants by giving them direct entry into the interview series. This year, the IFSCA published eight such vacancies.

Nitish Garg, who missed the final UPSC list in 2019 by 10 points, was able to interview at SAI based on his performance at UPSC. He is now working as an assistant director at the SAI and preparing for state services.

But Amit says this new system is not enough. The real problem is always the same: a large number of young Indians are discouraged because there is a severe shortage of jobs in the country.

What also doesn’t change is Rajat’s routine. He always wakes up in his apartment in old Rajinder Nagar. He always takes money from his parents. While he locked his books in the closet, he still failed to distance himself from the UPSC world. Soon after her tweet went viral, many wannabes came to her for advice. Now he gives interviews, attends chat sessions, moderates the Twitter spaces of former and current UPSC aspirants, and amplifies the stories of those who have built careers elsewhere – all with the goal of helping those who fail in the dream of the USPC.

It’s not easy to magically turn off the UPSC-bug switch after the results. There are lingering residual moods where you still inhabit that dream.

“UPSC is such a chakravyuh (Labyrinth). Once in, you won’t be able to get out easily. But preparation makes you a smarter person. You might not be able to find a job after preparing for UPSC, but you won’t come back empty-handed,” says Garg.

(Edited by Prashant)

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