The reason Ira Singhal made headlines for topping the IAS exam were two-fold: one, she's the first differently-abled person who's been able to accomplish this already-difficult feat, and the second is that she'd had her candidature cancelled twice because of her scoliosis—and she persevered through it all like a boss!
"I was already working 20 hours a day in a corporate job, and absolutely killing myself doing it...till I eventually realised—this is really not what I want to do. I want to help people—and that's definitely not happening here. So I thought I might as well take these 20 hours a day that I'm completely wasting at a job that helps noone, really, study instead and use my time for good in the service."
Her parents weren't entirely convinced it was the right course of action. "They knew how lazy I'd been when it came to studying—I used to have friends call on the phone and teach me stuff during boards exams; I was SO disinclined! But I knew that this was something I really wanted, and so I quit my job and just went for it."
When she did finally write the exam, it was a flying colours scenario—but despite her great UPSC rank, the government didn't give her the job she rightly deserved. "I got the rank to be in the IRS, but they clearly just stated, 'your disability isn't the disability we have selected, so there's nothing we can do' —and this was despite me fitting all the criteria!"
She didn't take it lying down though. She ran around courtrooms relentlessly for a year—and meanwhile her candidature was cancelled altogether! "I wrote the exams again, and qualified again, constantly hitting my head against the same stone wall. But I kept fighting, because I realised I'm not just doing it for myself but for tonnes of other people who have faced the exact same thing since they were children. I've been discriminated against all my life—schools wouldn't admit me and would ask my parents to cart me off to 'special' school instead, people would stare at me and gape when I walked down the street—and you have no idea how much your stock plummets in the marriage market when you have a condition like this," she laughs. "But I knew I was getting into the system to change the country, and to make a difference—and what better way to start!"
She happened to take exam again, purely by chance. This time, she was just helping a friend study for his exam, and took it alongside him essentially to give him some degree of moral support and the rest was, truly, the making of history.