Life threw challenges at her since the very beginning. Born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare disease commonly known as fragile bone disorder, life was never easy for her. Born into a poor family was another challenge which held her back from fulfilling her dreams. But all these difficulties became exactly the reason for her to prove her mettle. Backed by absolute determination and self-developed intelligence, this girl first secured admission in Delhi University and then in JNU, without any support, and has now cracked UPSC in her first attempt.
Ummul Kher, 28, originally from Rajasthan, suffers from fragile bone disorder, a disease that causes weakening of bones making them vulnerable to frequent fractures. Ummul has received 16 fractures and undergone eight surgeries till date. In the future too, it is very likely that she will brave more injuries and require both caution and medical attention. She moved to Delhi with her parents when she was in STD 5. Her father was a street vendor who sold clothes near Nizamuddin Railway Station and they lived in a nearby slum.
Ummul got admission in Pandit Dindayal Upadhyay Institute For Physically Handicapped where she completed her STD 5. She later enrolled in Amar Jyoti Charitable trust to complete her STD 8.
It was a charitable organisation run by the government and I didn’t have to pay anything. Though getting one square meal was difficult, I was satisfied that I could at least study – Kher told to HT.
Till this stage of her life, everything was challenging but hope flickered. As she grew older, the challenges magnified. Life was about to unveil her more difficult phases.
“I wanted to study at Arwachin Bharti Bhawan Senior Secondary School as it had better infrastructure and I had got a scholarship,” she said. But her parents were against it. They said if she studied any further they will sever ties with her. “I was abused. My intentions were questioned because I wanted to study. It was the worst time. They said you now have more education than a girl should get,” she said.
Everyone faces difficulties at different stages of life, people usually surrender at different levels but achievers are the ones who decide to challenge the odds even in their most difficult times. Ummul decided to live her life on her own when she was barely 14. She started taking tuitions to earn for survival, rented a “jhuggi” in nearby slum where she could live without parents loathing her education.
I had started taking tuitions but living independently meant I had to earn more money. From a few children the tuitions expanded to four batches — 3pm to 5pm, then from 5pm to 7pm, 7pm to 9pm and 9pm to 11 in the night. These were mostly the children from slum areas and I got between Rs 50-100 from each student. I couldn’t have expected more as these were children of labourers, iron smith, rickshaw-pullers etc. – Ummul
Several other problems tailed her decision to live on her own. Social security, daily chores, facing questioning gazes is not easy for a girl who lived alone in a jhuggi. But Ummul kept her focus on her studies and scored 91 percent in STD 12 and got admission in Gargi College, Delhi. She continued to give tutions to fund her education. In 2012, she met with a small accident and was confined to a wheelchair for a year because of her bone disorder.
She funded her education through the money she won in college debates. “You can earn decent money as the prize amount is high in some college festivals. But here too, she could not participate in debates that were organised in evening as she had to take tuitions,” Ummul’s friend Abhishek Ranjan said.
After finishing her graduation, Ummul cleared JNU entrance exam to do her master’s in International Studies. She also started receiving means-cum-merit scholarship of Rs. 2,000 every month which allowed her stop giving tutions and dedicate more time to studies. She then appeared for civil services exams and cleared one of the most difficult exams in India in her first attempt. With an all India rank of 420, she is hopeful to get IAS under disability quota.
Ummul’s family has already moved back to Rajasthan where her brother runs a small bangle shop. She is yet to tell them about her achievement. On being asked if she will forgive her family for leaving her midway, she said, “I don’t blame them. They were brought up in an environment that shaped their thinking. It is not their fault,” she said. “I have not made a phone call yet as they don’t know what civil services mean. But I will visit them soon.”
Ummul’s story is a rare example of extraordinary determination to get out of below average socio-economic conditions. Her spirits were not hindered by the rare and incurable disease and can be presented as a strong case study for everyone who are struggling with smaller issues in life.