"When I started preparing for my CSS exam, I called one of my MBBS batch mates for guidance. Although he was preparing for the exam for a long time, he said to me that Hindu girls do not appear for this exam. They are good doctors, gynaecologists, radiologists, engineers, educationalists, etc., but that they don’t have a chance in the civil service, so why do I want to go for it,” says Dr. Sana Ramchand, first Hindu woman to clear the Central Superior Services (CSS) exam.
On May 6, 2021, the Federal Public Service Commission of Pakistan (FPSC) announced the results of Pakistan’s most competitive public service exam held in 2020. Dr. Sana Ramchand Gulwani, hailing from Shikarpur, made history by becoming the first Hindu woman to clear the CSS exam in her first attempt and was given appointment in the most sought-after cadre of bureaucracy, Pakistan Administrative Services (PAS), formerly known as the District Management Group (DMG). She was among the less than two per cent of the candidates who were able to clear this exam.
It is generally believed that Pakistani Hindu women are suppressed and are systemically discriminated against. Even Google search about Hindu women in Pakistan only highlights news related to their forceful conversion, abduction and coerced marriages. However, young women like Dr. Sana Ramchand and Manisha Ropeta (the first Hindu woman to be appointed as Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) in Sindh Police) challenge this belief and put forward the less prominent side of the Pakistani society, which provides them equal opportunities regardless of their religious identity.
While sharing her story with Hilal for Her, Dr. Sana told us how she has always believed in herself and the system: “I told my batch mate that I wanted to attempt the exam and prove that I could do it on merit. If I didn’t pass, I would continue my current job but I had to make at least one attempt.”
Born on November 3, 1993, Sana lives with her family who belong to the Shikarpur district in rural Sindh, but are currently, settled in Sukkur. She is the first one from her family and her entire town to qualify for CSS. It took her eight months of hard work to prepare for this exam. “Since my interest was in administration, PAS was my first choice. It was quite unexpected when I got in, since a few people kept reminding me that I belong to a religious minority. This made me think that even if I cleared the exam, I would be appointed in the Police, where most Hindus are recruited, but not in Administration. However, when the results came in, and I was chosen for PAS. I received many congratulatory calls and messages. That feeling was extraordinary,” says Dr. Sana.
Before she started to prepare for her CSS exam, she was already serving as a Grade 17 medical officer at Taluka Hospital, Lakhi, in rural Shikarpur. She was also enrolled in FCPS Surgery. Her family wanted her to stay in medicine because they believed that she had a better chance to excel in this field.
“I was a typical medical student — invested in my medical books, working earnestly. I wasn’t even aware of CSS until District Commissioner Shikarpur visited our hospital. I was impressed by his conduct and his communication skills. Later, I found out that he was a CSS officer, which became a turning point for me. It took me nearly two months to thoroughly research and make up my mind to sit for the exam. I started my preparation in May of 2019 and sat for the exam in February 2020,” she says.
Dr. Sana categorically denies having ever been discriminated against because of her religion. “Never,” she says, “I never felt that I am living in a country where I belong to a minority, definitely not until someone reminds me. I always got equal opportunities. When I was appointed in PAS, many senior bureaucrats of higher grades reached out and congratulated me. They encouraged me, supported me and constantly asserted that I would not be treated differently. Quite the contrary, I am unique because of my religious roots, and this makes them proud; I have always received more love because of being a Hindu. I would never say that I faced any problems because of my religion.”
Dr. Sana feels that she had a great support system that helped her achieve success. For this she is most grateful to her family, particularly her mother. “My mother took most care of me during the entire phase of my preparation for the exam. As I took leave from the hospital, I never left my room during the last three months before the exam. If I studied the whole night, she would stay up with me; I didn’t even have to get up for tea. She took care of everything, not just during my CSS preparations but for all my exams. I have always had her in my corner” she says.
“A senior in my university who is currently serving in income tax, was my mentor and has helped me throughout my journey. He suggested the optional subjects, checked my essays, composition and guided me whenever I needed help,” she adds telling about the people who helped her along the way.
Dr. Sana feels that the way forward for women is to break free of perceived chains and go for whatever they aspire to do. “See, it is all about what you are passionate about. You should identify your inherent qualities. For instance, if you are caring, sympathetic, and empathetic towards others, then you should join medicine. Everyone should follow their passion. People shouldn’t think that if one Hindu girl passed the CSS exam and received praises from many eminent personalities, they should also follow this path. If their passion lies with engineering, medicine or computer sciences, I say go for it,” she says.
Like Dr. Sana Ramchand, the year 2021 also marks the success of Manisha Ropeta, from Jacobabad, who became the first Hindu woman to be appointed as a DSP in Sindh Police. According to the results shared by the Sindh Public Service Commission (SPSC), Manisha stood 16th out of the 152 successful candidates.
According to Manisha, she is currently waiting for her training to start. She was not working before and solely focused on her SPSC exam, along with her medical studies. Manisha belongs to a family of medical professionals; her three elder sisters are doctors, and her younger brother is studying for BBA Health Management. Manisha’s father passed away when she was only 13-years-old. Since then, her mother, Mrs. Eshwari Ropeta, has worked and raised her children as a single mother.
Manisha says that she always aimed to become a civil servant: “The place where I come from, women are only given two choices: either they opt for a medical profession or no profession at all. I always wanted to break this stereotype and set an example for others to follow. However, being a woman, I was also expected to follow the status quo. Therefore, I had to obtain a degree and opted for Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). But I knew that I would apply for civil services as soon as I finished my DPT degree. I always say that dreams are dynamic; they are always moving before our eyes and show you the place where you have to reach one day,” she explains.
Manisha also says that she never faced any prejudice because of her religion contrary to what many outside of Pakistan would like to believe. She says, “Honestly, I never faced discrimination because of my religion. Sometimes I felt more loved and respected because of being a Hindu. Even when I was in the university, I was the most adored student of my batch. My batch mates and I used to eat, live and study as one. If until now I have never been discriminated against because of being a Hindu, I do not think it will happen in the future. There are peaceful and loving people in our country, and I don’t believe that there is any sort of discrimination or bias because of being a Hindu, let alone a Hindu woman.”
According to her, the only pressures that she has faced are of the kind that many other women of Pakistan also face, irrespective of their religion, caste or class. “I am currently 28 and have achieved a lot, but somehow marriage is the only criterion, which is the benchmark to judge a woman in a society like ours. Our society expects women to be married by a certain age,” she elaborates on the point.
The biggest challenge that Manisha feels she has faced is the passing of her father. “When my father passed away, it was a difficult time for the whole family. I vividly remember that everything changed. Our society always identifies us through a male figure, therefore, when you suddenly lose the male guardian even relatives treat you differently. I remember when we lost our father, my mother was asked to compromise on our education to save her from additional financial burden, but my mother refused. She wanted to fulfil our father’s vision and made every possible effort to educate all five of us. I clearly remember her resilience and courage in those difficult times, and this has shaped me into the person I am today,” she says.
Manisha’s family have always leant their support to her and guided her when needed. This according to her helped her fend off any societal pressure she may have had to face. She says, “My elder sister always says that one should work hard in silence and let their success make the noise. During and after my graduation, I never shared that I wanted to become a civil servant or join the Police. I think this is one of many reasons that this became possible for me. I didn’t hear much criticism from the people around me because they didn’t know about it. It was only when the results came out that my relatives, and the world got to know what I was preparing for.
“I always received unconditional support from my family, especially from my younger brother, Roop. I am a very family-oriented person, and I don’t socialize a lot. I have always considered my siblings as my friends. Therefore, I didn’t require much support from outside. I have learned from my family to own my failures and never give up.”
When asked if it would be challenging to work in Police, and how she saw the role of women in the law enforcement department, Manisha said, “It will indeed be challenging, but we have many examples in our society of strong female police officers like SSP Sohai Aziz Talpur and ASP Shehla Qureshi. They prove every day that despite many challenges, women in police are excelling in their work. I think that the police force needs to be more gender inclusive and more women should become police officers.”
Manisha explained that when she got appointed as a DSP, many referred to her as ‘Madam Sir’, which was quite strange for her. “When we say Police, we are always thinking of a male officer, and there is a general perception that it is a male-oriented profession. Now I see that women are breaking this stereotype and moving towards building a better and more gender inclusive society,” says Manisha. She emphasised that in a society where most victims are women, we need to have more female officers as protectors. I think in future we will not be asking this question since I am hopeful that there will be many females in our law enforcement agencies.
Talking to these two women, one can clearly see that Pakistan gives opportunities to all its citizens, irrespective of their gender, class, caste or creed; all one needs to do is work hard to follow their passion and not only opportunities will present themselves but the society will also not stand in the way, rather make way. HH
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