At 14, Ilma couldn’t bear the pain when she lost her father to cancer. Her father was a farmer and the family lived in Kundarki town in Moradabad district. With a daughter and 12-year-old son, Ilma’s mother made sure that her children would battle it out tough times only to realise their ambitions.
Knowing the circumstances at a very young age, Ilma knew what exactly what she wanted to do to help the family to get into the comfort zone. The determined Illma graduated from her school and then attended the prestigious St Stephen’s College, where she pursued philosophy.
“The three years I spent studying philosophy at St Stephen’s, were the best years of my life so far. Learning the subject in an environment where professors can closely engage with students helped me imbibe important lessons. We learnt so much outside the classroom as well. Learning philosophy encourages one to think on their own,” she said.
The UG course laid the foundation stone for her advancement to public service. Talking about her learnings, Ilma said, “I learnt to formulate an argument, write convincingly and listen patiently. In class, we would read, discuss and debate Gandhiji and weigh what impact would a particular decision have in facilitating change in the life of the last person (antodaya) in the darkest village.
The six schools of Indian Philosophy taught me to appreciate the diversity of thought and value systems. As the Kena Upanishad says, ‘knowledge is like Uma Himavati—bahushobhaniyam; the most illuminating of all.'”
After this, Ilma got a scholarship to attend Oxford University and at the Wolfson College where she completed her Master’s. From there she went to New York City where she marked her presence for the voluntary service programme in the Manhattan.
Speaking to The Better India, Ilma said, “Every single day when I returned to my room in downtown Manhattan, I would yearn for home. For Ammi, and her smile. I would look out from the window of my room at New York skyline and watch the matchbox-like yellow taxis swarming the streets—a ubiquitous image associated with the American dream. I asked myself will my Oxford education go towards running after a ‘foreign dream’?
Driven by Gandhiji’s dream to ‘wipe every tear from every eye’, the feeling that the nation should reap the benefit of my education and experiences grew manifold. I wanted to do my bit in fulfilling Gandhiji’s dream.”
From here on started her epic journey back home. She then applied for civil services examination and defied all the odds by clearing the examination in 2017 as she bagged 217th rank all India and inducted into the Indian Police Service. Under the Himachal Pradesh cadre, she will soon be trained for 16 months.
She gave credit to her mother and brother for her success, Ilma said, “My mother taught me the value of hard work. My brother didn’t save money for my dowry. Instead, he spent it on my education. Ammi and bhaiyya made numerous sacrifices to educate me.”
Ilma is extremely happy to come across the grassroots community network which is keen to promote education for underprivileged children in Kundarki. Ilma said “I want to enable young students to fulfil their immense potential, excel in academics, and hopefully, one day, give back to the nation. I want all students to get an opportunity to shine, and lend a healing touch to those around us.”