SHAH FAESAL, a 27-year-old medical doctor from Sogam, a remote village in the border district of Kupwara, made every Kashmiri proud when the results of the 2009 Civil Services Examination were announced. By coming out on top, he not only wrote a new chapter in Kashmir's otherwise battered history but strengthened the feeling among average Kashmiris that they can be better placed in a system which they have been looking at with suspicion. Apparently, his success has also given a new direction to the relations between Srinagar and New Delhi.
Forgetting for a moment the troubles in the Valley's links with the rest of India, Kashmiris, irrespective of their ideological preferences, accepted Faesal's feat as their own. Every home celebrated this victory in its own way. Faesal is the first Kashmiri to top the Civil Services Examination since Independence. This makes us feel that we too can be at the top, said Danish Abrar, a young student at Kashmir University.
Faesal's difficult situation makes his achievement all the more extraordinary. He wrote his Common Entrance Test for a seat in the local medical college in 2002, four days after his father was shot dead by militants. He cleared it successfully and, as he told this correspondent, his ability to do this gave him enough strength to do something big. He passed his MBBS with distinction.
The IAS was always in my mind but when I came out of the shackles of the trauma, my determination had crossed a barrier, he said.
However, his path was not easy. Soon after the fourth-day ceremony for his father, his mother left the village for Srinagar with Faesal, his brother and his sister, and started a new life in a rented room. She had never imagined that her husband Ghulam Rasool Shah, who was a respected teacher, would meet with such a fate. It was a jolt, but I thought that to keep him alive I had to give the best to my children, she told Frontline. I knew Faesal would do something extraordinary. And I never interfered in his decisions.
Along with Faesal, three more Kashmiris, Rayees Mohammad Bhat, Showkat Parray and Mir Umair Nabi, cleared the Civil Services Examination. Four Kashmiris clearing the examination in the same year is another first. Now Faesal is a role model for the youth in Kashmir, who think that they can also be there.
Shah Faesal was the curt reply from a seventh-grade boy, Rishab, in a village in south Kashmir when asked what he wanted to be in life. Faesal has broken many myths in Kashmiri society. He has shown that an IAS topper can come from a modest background and an ordinary government school.
However, many people still feel that Kashmiri boys and girls do not generally get the right environment to crack the Civil Services Examination. Lack of awareness and coaching facilities prevents them from excelling, said Zubair Ahmad, himself an officer in the State government.
Few Kashmiris have made it to the IAS and the Indian Police Service (IPS) over the years. The turbulent situation in the State played its part in preventing the youth from pursuing such career goals. Khurshid Ganai, the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, came second in the 1982 IAS examination. The next Kashmiri to enter the IAS was Atal Dulloo nine years later.
Kuldip Khuda, currently State Director-General of Police, made it to the IPS in 1974. Twenty years later, Javed Gillani and Abdul Gani Mir became IPS officers. It took another 15 years for another Kashmiri, Imtiaz Ismail Parray, to enter the IPS.
Now that a Kashmiri has come first in the Civil Services Examination, these officers hope more Kashmiris will be able to enter the civil services.