A day earlier, Sreedhanya Suresh was walking on the street outside Kuravankonam in Thiruvananthapuram, with a friend. She could not bear the tension as the hour came closer – the civil service exam results would be announced any minute. It happened when she went for the walk.
Sylesh Fernandes of the Fortune IAS Academy was waiting for her. Not only did Sreedhanya crack the exam, she's ranked 410, and this would make her the first from a tribal community in Kerala to clear the civil service.
Sreedhanya made her first call to Kamala, her mother in Wayanad. Both her parents -- Kamala and Suresh -- are daily wage labourers. Media persons reached her parents’ place in Idiyamvayal, Wayanad and the academy in Thiruvananthapuram, where Sreedhanya was. Between cake cutting and camera clicks, Sreedhanya, with a big smile, named the many people who supported her – the moral support of her parents, the Fortune Academy that let her do the preparations for the mains for free, the Scheduled Tribes Department that helped with the finance.
“It is after my PG and when I was working somewhere that I saw an IAS officer for the first time – the Manathavady sub collector Sreeram Samba Siva Rao. The way everyone was waiting for him to come to a room, and the mass entry that he made, lit an old spark inside me. An old desire I had nursed since I was a child,” Sreedhanya says.
She had a very ordinary and carefree childhood growing up in Wayanad, she says, facing none of the discrimination that tribal communities often do. Wayanad is home to a number of tribal communities like the Paniyas, Adiyas, Kurichiyans, Ooralis and Kattunayakans. Men and women belonging to these tribes were once sold along with plantations or used as coffee thieves by upper caste people. Untouchability too was once practised against them. Sreedhanya mentions that her community - Kurichiyans - however followed a matrilineal system and that gave her a lot of freedom as a girl growing up in Wayanad and going to a public school.
"I had a free childhood, my parents would just let me go everywhere by myself. There were no restrictions," she says.
After school, she did her B.Sc. in Zoology at the Devagiri St Joseph's College in Kozhikode, and her PG in Applied Zoology at the Calicut University.
Congratulatory messages from everywhere
Hours after the result was out, Sreedhanya received congratulatory messages from everywhere – Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Congress president Rahul Gandhi who is contesting from Wayanad, and actor-politician Kamal Haasan.
On Saturday, to the many media persons who had assembled at the Academy, Sreedhanya repeats, she had no difficulty in life, except for the financial constraints. Occasionally, students would casually remark that it would be easy for her to clear the cut-off for the ST category, but this only made her stronger in her efforts to clear the general category cut-off.
LDF candidate C Divakaran meets Sreedhanya
By Saturday noon, she has given too many interviews, her voice is strained and she speaks between coughs. But Sreedhanya’s smile does not fade, and she springs to her feet to greet C Divakaran, the LDF candidate for the general elections from Thiruvananthapuram, who has come to congratulate her.
She never had a problem in facing a crowd or in public speaking, Sreedhanya says. So, the interview after clearing the mains, was not difficult. “Only, I expected a better rank. But 410 is fine, I hope it should get me IAS, as has been the pattern in previous years,” she says.
Sreedhanya does not speak of the impossible hours she put in for the preparation. One day, she might spend six hours with her books, another day, it might be less than an hour. She’s had a regular teenager's life. “In my teenage years, I was in the nature club in my plus 2, and was politically active in college – working for the KSU. I’d cut class like any other student my age,” she says.
But she is aware it is not so easy for everyone. She hopes to change that. “The dropout level among tribal students is the highest. I hope to change that. There are so many other issues – land rights, women’s safety, problems of unwed mothers. But I wouldn’t focus my work on a single community, I’d deal with the problems of every community.”