Born with chronic low vision and myopia, Ravi Kumar Arora nevertheless had a clear image of what he wanted to achieve in life. And one thing he was sure of: he would not let shortsighted bureaucrats cheat him out of what was his due.
Mr. Arora was born on September 24, 1973, in Madhupur, Jharkhand. He attended a regular government school in his hometown, Madhupur, and went to Madhupur College (Bhagalpur University). But he was unable to see the blackboard. “In a small village, government schools are often as poor as their students, lacking physical infrastructure as well as trained human resources.” In school, as in college, he was helped by his friends, and by his mother at home. His parents have always been the guiding force in his life; they have supported and encouraged him. “Whatever I have achieved today is only because of my parents,” he says.
“My vision is 6/60, and I can read by holding papers or books very close to my eyes,” he says. “The first time someone sees me doing this they ask some foolish question. Then they come to know the real me [and these things do not matter].” [Note: ‘Normal’ vision is 6/6.]
His independent spirit made him refuse the help of either readers or writers for his exams. He got the same question papers as all the others, and wrote the answers himself.
The Union Public Service Commission (or U.P.S.C.) was his dream. Mr. Arora was motivated by the desire “to do something really meaningful”. Becoming a Civil Servant is one way of ensuring that you are in a position to be able to take significant steps for the development of your country.
In his words: “I have opted to serve society as a member of the Civil Services. The Civil Service is one of the most influential ways of serving the masses. The government frames the policies, but it’s the bureaucracy that is responsible for implementing them. In the case of the Disability Act also, the policy that the Parliament framed has not been implemented in its true spirit. That’s why I, like thousands of other people, faced problems. As Civil Servants, we have to follow the rules in their true spirit. I will follow this principle in my career.”
Preparing for the Civil Services is hard work – there are many subjects to be studied; global current affairs to be tracked; reasoning skills brushed up, among others. He left no stone unturned in his efforts to realise his dream. After he graduated, Mr. Arora had started work in the Health Ministry, Government of India, Nirman Bhawan, New Delhi, as an Assistant. “Almost all the files in a Ministry start their journey from the table of an Assistant. It’s a purely desk job.” Every day, after he came home from office, he would sit down with his books. Any free time that he got was also devoted to studying.
It was his zeal and determination that saw him qualify the written Preliminary and Main exams, and the interview round as well, in 2001.
Mr. Arora stood 325th in the Civil Services examination, qualifying for the Indian Postal Service, entirely on merit and not due to any disability quota. And this was where he came up against a serious hurdle. He had received the intimation for joining the Foundation Course.
The Medical Board then conducted a routine medical examination, and declared him unfit for all Services on account of “substandard vision”. This was a rude blow. Mr. Arora refused to suffer this injustice silently. He petitioned the Delhi Court. And in a landmark judgment delivered on April 15, 2004, the High Court declared: “The petitioner [that is, Mr. Arora], without any aid, appeared in the written examination and was successful. [He] was found meritorious by the expert panel in [an] interview. To deny the benefit of appointment to the post would be a travesty of justice.”
The Court further ruled: “The petitioner is therefore entitled to be appointed as per his merit and seniority based on the rank obtained… for the examination of 2001 and… be so appointed to the Indian Postal Services or an equivalent Service.”
At present, a government appeal is pending in the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court. “My appointment though is conditional and subject to the outcome of the appeal,” he clarifies.
He has settled down well into the normal, daily routine of life as a Probationer. “My main duties are to clear files and inspect offices, and my poor vision is not an obstacle here.”
Mr. Arora was conferred the Helen Keller Award in 2004 for his resolute struggle to see that justice prevailed. His mantra for success: Strive for excellence in whatever you do. “Just concentrate on your work; don’t ever bother about what others say,” Mr. Arora emphasises. “Try for the best but be prepared for the worst.”
Words worth emulating from one whose determination has broken down the doors of discrimination in the higher echelons of government service in India.