27-year-old Kamila Mushtaq from Srinagar’s Karan Nagar locality has seen failures as well as successes, quite before she made headlines in Kashmir. Her dream of becoming a doctor came crashing down when she couldn’t qualify for MBBS and had to instead settle for a B.Tech in civil engineering. She also had to put up with the fact that she could not crack the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) despite attempting it twice. But these failures never deterred her from aiming big and she proved it when the results of Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) 2018 examination declared her a topper.
In a candid interview at her residence, Kamila Mushtaq tells us about the ups and downs in her life and what it is to be a girl with a dream in Kashmir.
Q. You outshone over 25000 candidates. What made it possible?
Kamila Mushtaq: I think that the key to success is perseverance, patience, and dedication. These three things helped me a lot crack this examination.
Q. It seems that civil services has mostly never been the top career choice for the women in Kashmir. What do you think is stopping them?
Kamila Mushtaq: I think there are hurdles that girls especially face when it comes to pursuing a course as such. This is mostly because they think their lives are centred around household, marriage, taking care of the children and other family members, etc. But personally, I believe that girls here are as productive and competitive as boys. By securing the top rank, that is the exact message I am sending out: That girls can do it!
Q. Was cracking the civil services a part of your childhood dream?
Kamila Mushtaq: No, when I was a child I had no idea about the civil services. However, I definitely wanted to become a doctor as any conventional Kashmiri family would want its child to become. But when I appeared for the medical entrance examination, I could not qualify for MBBS and instead got into AIEEE. Which is what led me to take up a B.Tech degree.
Q. Who is your inspiration and why?
Kamila Mushtaq: No specific individual is an inspiration. Any hardworking person, be it an officer or someone involved in a menial job will kindle inspiration in me.
Q. How has been born and raised in Kashmir, a region that has witnessed tensions for years, impacted you and your aspirations?
Kamila Mushtaq: When one deals with such conflicts and tensions as we do in Kashmir, one becomes stronger and more resilient to the surroundings. The conflict, lockdowns and internet shutdowns were problems but in the longer run they made me stronger.
Q. You cleared the examination in your first attempt itself. If it were IAS, what do you think the situation would have been?
Kamila Mushtaq: I have already attempted IAS twice, but I couldn’t qualify the pre-lims. This year, God willing, I hope I will qualify. I am preparing for that. I have appeared in the examination too and I’m now awaiting the results.
Q. Tell us about the way you have been preparing for this examination.
Kamila Mushtaq: You should have a very concise list of books, and you should try and not diversify those options. You have to read it, re-read and revise it. Besides, you have to maintain your time in a day such that every subject is touched upon.
Before I started preparing for it, it seemed like an uphill task. It was very scary and I was not sure if I will be able to do it. However, as I began to prepare I became very familiar with the syllabus and the subjects and soon realised that it was very doable.
Q. What has been the response of Kashmiri girls to the news of you topping the KAS?
Kamila Mushtaq: I have been getting congratulatory messages from many girls – my friends, school, and my neighbourhood. It is a very overwhelming feeling to know that they seek inspiration from me now.
Q. How important do you think it is to have more women in powerful positions in the administration?
Kamila Mushtaq: Quite important, I’d say. Administrators have a significant role to play in policy making and a feminist perspective and approach will lead to more pro-women policies, something which I believe can be made possible with the appointment of more women in the administration.
As for me, whatever service I am allocated, I will do full justice to it and contribute my best to the society.
Q. What are the challenges you have faced so far, life or otherwise?
Kamila Mushtaq: My life is a mixture of successes and failures. There were many failures that were a part of my life, and I overcame them by perseverance and patience. I remember when I couldn’t qualify the MBBS entrance examination, I was very dejected. But soon I realised that failure is another stepping stone to success and thus, I decided to take a positive approach to what were seemingly my failures.
This civil services journey is full of ups and downs. There were days when I didn’t feel very good about myself. I felt that I won’t be able to crack this examination because of the stress associated with it. But I was able to cope up with this by having faith in God, by praying and meditation.
Q. What are your interests/hobbies?
Kamila Mushtaq: My hobbies keep changing. Currently, I love solving puzzles. Of late, I have started liking cooking also, experimenting different recipes, though I don’t go to the kitchen much.
Q. What is your message to the aspirants?
Kamila Mushtaq: My message to all the aspirants would be that if you have a goal, you should set it right and persevere in the right direction to achieve it. I think that is the key.
Younis Ahmad Kaloo is a freelance journalist based in Kashmir. Previously, he was a Delhi-based Correspondent at FORCE Newsmagazine, a monthly magazine on national security and aerospace. He was also part of the Kus Bani Koshur Krorepaet (Kashmiri version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?) season 1 where he worked as Assistant Director and Casting Producer. Younis is specialised in Narrative Journalism with Masters in Convergent Journalism from the Central University of Kashmir. He can be found on Facebook.