My Date with the UPSC
Name: Ann Rammawii Haokip
Age: 22 years
Optional Subjects: Psychology, Public Administration
Educational Qualifications: B.A. (Psychology) 2010
Board: Mr. Vijay Singh
April 20, 2012: I arrive at the UPSC building for my interview at 9:00 am. The candidates are grouped into seven groups of six members each. I am the first person to be called for the interview in my group. In the waiting area, I discover that the chairperson of my interview board is Mr. Vijay Singh (former Defence Secretary).
After a few minutes, the peon instructs me to enter into the room.
I ask permission to enter, greet the members and sit down.
Chairman: You are straight out of college. Do you not wish to pursue a master’s degree?
Me: I definitely will, in the future. For now, I want to focus on getting a career in the Indian Civil Services.
Chairman: You studied at Lady Shri Ram College. Can you tell us about your time there?
Me: I had a wonderful experience during college. An important thing I learned there was to appreciate diversity – of cultures and thought. I also served as Secretary of the Western Music Society during my second year of college.
Chairman: That’s right. So what kind of music did the society perform? And you also play an instrument?
Me: We performed all genres of western music. Yes, I play the acoustic guitar.
Chairman: And do you continue to pursue music?
Me: I do; it makes me happy. I sometimes play in the worship band at church.
Chairman: You come from Manipur. How do you explain the blockades that have been happening there? It doesn’t seem to make sense at all.
Me: It is indeed a sad situation. I would like to draw an analogy to a scenario where there are two children – a boy and a girl. Say, you give the boy a chocolate. The girl, instead of asking for a chocolate says, “Take back that chocolate from him; if I can’t have one, he can’t have it either.” In Manipur, the people of the Sadar Hills region have been demanding for a separate district. Most of the people in this region belong to a particular tribe and a rival tribe has protested their demand by calling a blockade. In return, a counter blockade has been called by the first tribal group. So what we see is sibling rivalry at a higher level; a sort of clannish mentality. In the end, it is the common people who suffer the most.
Chairman: You grew up in many cities. How has that affected your upbringing?
Me: I was born in Dimapur, Nagaland, where my family lived for about two years. We spent the next five years in Pune, where I spent most of my early childhood playing outdoors as we did not have technological gadgets to keep us entertained. We then shifted to Bangalore, where I learned to develop an aesthetic sense and engage in cultural activities and sports. In Hyderabad, I became more of introvert and tried to get in touch with my inner self. My upbringing has definitely shaped the person I am today.
Member 1: Could you draw a comparison of India with the United States, with respect to how the U.S. is called a “melting pot?” Can India also become a melting pot?
Me: It is a well-known fact that India is a land of a variety of cultures, languages and people groups. If we are to become a homogeneous society, it is important that the society develops a mindset that respects the dignity of labor. Only then can there be social mobility where anyone, anywhere can pursue any job they want and are capable of. People cannot remain stagnant and bogged down by clannish mentality or divided on caste lines if they want to become a relatively homogeneous society. At the same time, India is slowly moving forward in the right direction. For instance, both my parents come from cultivator backgrounds and are the first generation in their families to receive an education, and today, I am able to think about pursuing a career in the elite Civil Services. The capital city of Delhi itself is a prime example of a cosmopolitan city.
Member 2: (woman member) What are the problems faced by the youth of Manipur?
Me: Young people in Manipur face the problems of unemployment, drug addiction and HIV/AIDS. Many of them are joining insurgency groups only to make a living. It is a very disheartening situation as most of them are educated. But they are not able to find a stable source of earning an income. Many of them migrate to metropolitan cities in other parts of India in search of employment.
Member 2: What is the percentage of people who are into drugs and are affected by HIV/AIDS?
Me: I don’t know the exact figures, but a good number of the population is engaged in substance abuse, as a result of which the number of people suffering from HIV/AIDS is also quite high compared to other Indian states.
Member 2: How often do you visit Manipur? How do you feel when you go there?
Me: Unfortunately, I do not visit as often as I would like to. My last visit was in 2007. Usually, there is a sense of apprehension before going, but once I’m there it feels wonderful to be among my extended family members. Even though I never grew up there, I do feel for the people. In fact, I have put the Manipur-Tripura cadre and AGMUT as my first few preferences if I get selected to serve in the Indian Administrative Services. It would be an honor to give back something to the community I belong to.
Member 2: What is your view on the gay community?
Me: I am supportive of gay rights. I believe it is a human rights issue as everyone is entitled to live a life of dignity, according to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, without the intrusion of privacy, so long as they do not pose a threat to national security. If I may be candid with you, I also have many friends who identify with the gay community.
Member 2: How would you balance your personal life with your work life?
Me: Personal life should be kept separate from work. However, if a situation arises wherein there is an issue that needs to be addressed at a larger level, I would definitely look into it, even if it requires me to cross this divide.
Member 3: I’d like to follow up on the melting pot issue. There is another view that says society can be described as a salad bowl. What is your take on that?
Me: I would like to go with the “salad bowl” analogy as it accommodates the uniqueness of the different cultures in a society. It allows people to interact with one another and yet retain one’s unique identity, which, as a Psychology student, I believe is important – accepting individual differences.
Member 3: You spent the summer of 2009 in Singapore on a Student Exchange Program. What can India learn from Singapore?
Me: Singapore is a very well-managed country. I noticed that almost everything is very efficient there. Never once did I experience a traffic-jam there! We might be under the impression that Singapore, being a more developed country than India, does not have any problems. However, during my time there, I came into contact with a few people – doctors, social workers and rights activists – who work among Singapore’s migrant workers. These migrant workers come from countries like Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and are engaged in construction work. They are at the receiving end of contractors and are sometimes denied basic rights. The important thing is that the people have the right to dissent, as in any democracy. I believe that that’s an important right. India and Singapore share a bilateral relationship where both countries can learn from each other through a two-way process.
Chairman: We know that the Singapore Government pays its civil servants the highest salaries in the world. If we replicate this in India, will it serve to reduce corruption?
Me: Increasing the salary of civil servants with the intention of reducing the incidence of corruption would be a step in the right direction. This would, however, not be sufficient to curb corruption. If it is in a person’s nature to want more, he will never be satiated. It is therefore essential to inculcate values – of honesty and integrity – in the minds of people, if possible from a young age itself.
Member 3: You’ve listed listening to “alternative folk” music as one of your hobbies. What is that?
Me: This is a genre of music that is slightly more energetic than its parent genre – folk. What I especially like about this form of music is that the lyrics are usually open to interpretation and one can relate to them in many ways.
Member 4: (He excused himself earlier as he was coughing so he missed most of what happened in the interview) You’ve been shifting across various cities in India. Why is that?
Me: My family kept shifting because of my father’s work.
Member 4: I see. And why did you choose Psychology as your graduation subject?
Me: I chose Psychology as it a social science that studies human behavior. For me, that is an area of interest. Organizational Behavior also has relevance in applying psychological principles to the workplace.
Chairman: In India, most people have a demi-god of their own. How would you explain this psyche?
Me: It is usually the case that most people in India tend to attribute events to an external locus of control. So if a calamity arises, the gods must be at fault. And if we taste success, then we must give all praise to God. There is nothing amiss in believing in a God as such, however, I believe we need to start taking responsibility for our own actions. If we make a mistake, we need to learn to admit our fault. If we succeed, then acknowledge our hard work. It helps in building a more realistic self-image. We need to become internally driven. If we face problems, we have to engage in dialogue with the concerned parties.
Chairman: Are there any Indian psychologists you know of?
Me: Sudhir Kakar is a well-know Indian psychologist and author.
Chairman: He’s also being seen more as a pop psychologist, isn’t he?
Me: It’s alright to be popular.
Chairman: Of course. As long as people read your books! Thank you, Ann.
I thank them all and exit the room.