17 June, 2021

Sorry, Mr Das

Merit, caste...a tale of two IAS candidates

Illustration by Saahil
Sorry, Mr Das

Tina Dabi, a scheduled caste girl from Delhi, has topped the list of successful candidates in the civil services examinations 2015-16. While she was being congratulated, the UPSC let it be known that she had secured just 52 per cent marks. While the revelation may have prompted some sniggers, it did not really matter, because others secured even less. As the first SC candidate in six-and-a-half decades to top the list, Tina created history.

But while an overwhelmed BJP MP Udit Raj exclaimed that “this could not have been possible 40-50 years back”, he was not entirely correct. As far back as 1950, the first civil services examination held in independent India, another scheduled caste candidate, Achyutananda Das, had got into the IAS. Unlike Tina, however, Das had made his way to the bottom of the list. And his feat was no less fascinating.

Paucity of work had driven me to hunt for the first person from the Dalit and adivasi communities in the IAS. In 1990, I made repeated trips to the National Library when I was on deputation to Calcutta. Ultimately, I...

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