IAS: Why Qualifying It Is A Class Thing


THE Indian Administrative Services (IAS) is perhaps the only profession that has attained celebrity status in India. The number of candidates that sit for the examination varies within India and according to the Annual Report 2014-15 published by the Union Public Service Commission, Government of India (2016) some 24680 candidates  appeared in 1950, and out of that 2780 were recommended, which is 11.26 % success rate. However, the number of candidates that have appeared for the test has dramatically increased over the years, and in 2015 a total of 3,267,794 candidates appeared but surprisingly only 5,969 (0.18%) were recommended. This indicates a drastic decrease in the number of final recommendations.

Since the test is considered very hard, candidates routinely take multiple attempts to break the walls of the competition to be called the “IAS” officer. The big question remains as to who can afford to take such a risk where it is well established that only a few percent will qualify the final round, and that too perhaps after a few failed attempts. Only people with a strong support could do this, and that means such examinations are for the people who are usually “elite”. The poor cannot take the risk. It is also proven by published data that the employees of the IAS usually belong to privileged backgrounds: those who can afford to take risks, can halt their studies for preparation and can join coaching classes which charge a fortune as fees.

This takes us to another important discussion on why people take such tests and why entry to a typical administrative job has to be so popular among people. Is it the salary, incentives or something else? It seems it is not salary or incentives but the mere stardom that surrounds the job which makes it desirable. This suggests that deep within we aspire for power and yearn to be called “sir” — the British parlance for subjugation.

It is well known that it is not easy to achieve a formal education as everyone can’t afford it. It requires resources such as a privileged family background, parenthood, shelter, and health. Yet we remain completely blind to these realities when we pose with the so called high achievers, and we completely isolate the candidates who fail to pass or even sit for competitive examinations.

Very obviously, the idea of merit in itself is about a privileged background. Our education system and work culture has this weird fascination for class. Wealthy are usually exposed to the best and the worst is reserved for the less privileged people.



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Dr Afroz Ahmad Shah

Author is Assistant Professor in Structural Geology, Physical & Geological Sciences at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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