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Meet Shafiuddin: The first IES Qualifier from Mumbai’s Govandi Slum

Breaking barriers, Shafiuddin Siddiqui becomes the First IES Qualifier from Govandi, world’s largest slum in East Mumbai.

Authored by: Ayehsa Ayath Aslam Edited by: Shahzeen Khan

On November 30th, Mumbai’s Govandi slum celebrated as 28-year-old Shafiuddin Siddiqui, cracked the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC) exam, securing entry into the prestigious Indian Engineering Services (IES).

Being the first one from the suburb in eastern Mumbai, to ever crack the civil service examination, Siddiqui aims to work for the progress of Govandikars and undertake activities to encourage more Muslim students to take up competitive exams and pursue higher education.

Siddiqui has passed two government competitive exams previously and has scored second-highest marks in the interview stage in his third attempt at qualifying IES.

Earlier, Siddiqui served as a section engineer with the Indian Railways for three years, until his resignation in 2022. Following this, he was posted as an assistant engineer in Asangaon after successfully cracking Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC).

He attempted the state government exams, always aiming to crack UPSC one day, and that helped him stay consistent and motivated.

Having finished his SSLC at Anjuman Falahul Islam Urdu High School in Govandi, Siddiqui joined Swami Vivekanand Junior College, Chembur, for his 11th & 12th. He then joined M H Saboo Siddik College in 2018 to study civil engineering. It was during this time that he acknowledged his passion for civil engineering.

“I love the subject of Civil engineering and started exploring more about all the exams conducted by the government so that I could contribute to society through my skills in the field” he said, adding that he then became acquainted with the engineering branch of the UPSC.

Sparking his interest and prompting him to take a chance at it, his seniors at the College guided and encouraged him to take competitive exams, Siddiqui said during a phone conversation with The Observer Post.

The lack of a conducive study environment in Govandi forced Siddiqui to study at the local library for years. He then moved to Delhi, where he continued his preparations for an additional year.

Reflecting on his challenging journey from the slums, Siddiqui said, “My primary motivation has always been to be the first one to qualify this examination, and this would motivate others to go for it too.”

Siddiqui being the eldest; worked part-time as a teacher for engineering students during preparation. “While preparing they can surely manage to do other work. When there’s discipline and motivation, anything can be achieved”, he said, while pointing out that people with poor financial backgrounds can overcome such challenges in different ways if there’s passion for it.

Over the course of his preparation, Siddiqui did not lack any moral support when it came to his studies, be it from his family, friends or even colleagues. “Actually, without my colleague’s support, I wouldn’t have been able to prepare for the UPSC while working. I feel really sad about leaving this job” he is reported to have said, according to Mid-day (a Mumbai-based daily newspaper). “Throughout my journey, my parents have always motivated me and encouraged me to keep trying till I finally did it today,” Siddiqui said.

Siddiqui’s father, a civil contractor, and his homemaker mother, who has completed school education only, ensured that their children achieved great success despite their humble socio-economic status. Siddiqui’s siblings have also achieved notable success. One of his sisters has a degree in medicine while the other is pursuing CA and his two brothers are civil engineers too.

Siddiqui’s Aims & Aspirations:

Unaware of the myriad avenues in civil service, most students in Govandi don’t study beyond Std X or XII. “Whatever I have achieved, I want to deliver this knowledge to others. This is my future aspiration towards the youth of Govandi.” Speaking about how he aims to work for the educational welfare of Govandi, Siddiqui told The Observer Post, while paying special attention to the girls of the area, and assuring his valuable contribution in the growth of the underprivileged slum dwellers.

Guiding Aspirants with Wisdom:

Siddiqui points out two main aspects to ace any exam. “I have given a lot of tests so that I can evaluate myself in a real environment. If the exam is of three hours, I would try to complete the paper before 15-20 mins. This helped me develop my mindset.”

“Additionally, revision. Repeated revision of the same content is of great help. I have a note that I’ve prepared for myself, and I’ve revised that 30-40 times. So yes, revision and mock tests.” he said. Answering mock test papers more often and consistent revision, is Siddiqui’s secret to his success in cracking UPSC examination.

Challenges in Govandi:

Govandi is home to hundreds of thousands of impoverished families, grappling with dire living conditions due to extreme poverty, affecting over 1.3 billion people, that forces them to manage all daily necessities, including food, shelter, and education, within the daily budget of $1.25/day.

Adding to these struggles, Govandi contends with the highest air pollution levels in Mumbai, contributing to its astonishingly low human development index of 0.05, the city’s lowest. Hailing from a slum, where students often discontinue education after X or XII, Shafiuddin Siddiqui’s success has set standards, changing perceptions about Muslims in the area.

Recalling how Govandi has a few aspirants willing to take up competitive exams including his friends in recent years, Siddiqui said, a more comprehensive support is needed.

While people are working towards educational welfare, certain aspects demand greater attention, such as offering guidance for government examinations, and providing career counselling, Siddiqui said.

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