A former IAS officer creates level playing fields for underprivileged civil service aspirants
Having taken voluntary retirement from the Indian Administrative Service, Arun Kumar provides free coaching to civil service aspirants at the ghats of Ganga in Patna, Bihar. Most of the students are from rural Bihar, children of either farmers or workers in private firms.
Rahul Jha 16 Feb 2023 5:47 AM GMT
There is a rustle as 30 or so young people make themselves comfortable, seating themselves on newspapers spread on the ground, near Gandhi Ghat in Patna. Between four and six pm, these students of Patna University congregate there with notebooks and pens for free classes.
Their teacher is Arun Kumar who is expounding on the current political and economic scenario of the country. They are impervious to the curious stares of passers by.
Most of the students are from rural Bihar, children of either farmers or workers in private firms. They are trying to crack the toughest exam — to enter the civil services — with Arun Kumar, a retired officer of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), as their ‘teacher’.
Also Read: Rural libraries in Kishanganj, Bihar spread education among poor children
Daring to dream big
“My father is a farmer and all I dreamed of was a job that would make our lives easier,” Nishant Kumar, who is from Samastipur, told Gaon Connection.
“In August 2022, I heard about the free coaching classes for the civil services exams that were being given on the Ganga Ghat, and I joined in, ” Nishant said. Ever since, he has been diligently preparing for the civil services under the mentoring and tuition of Arun Kumar. “I could have never dreamt of doing this otherwise,” he added.
Coaching classes for civil services is very expensive. Realising this, Arun Kumar, who is in his 50s took premature voluntary retirement from the Indian Administrative Services in 2018. The former IAS officer is from the 1995 batch. He was with the Defence Ministry and also served as director at the Central Vigilance Commission.
Post retirement, Arun Kumar devoted himself to social service in Sitamarhi district. And, in January 2022, he began to coach students free of cost on the banks of the Ganges, to appear for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and the Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC) examinations.
In May 2022, he also set up a paid coaching academy called Ashoka Civil Services in Patna, where about 65 students are enrolled.
Also Read: Maharashtra: The 'Jeevan Shalas' Offer Education to Adivasi Children in Nandurbar
Creating a level playing field
“There are hundreds and thousands of students in Bihar who cannot afford to study because of their abject poverty. I am trying to prepare at least some of them,” Arun Kumar told Gaon Connection. "I want those students who cannot afford expensive coaching classes to have a shot at it,” he added.
Arun Kumar said that poverty being rife in Bihar, few students can afford to dream big. Those who have the money move to Delhi or other places to be coached.
“The abysmal condition of education in the backward areas of the state is not hidden from anyone, and for students from rural schools, attempting the competitive exams is a challenge. But if the students have a command over whatever they have learnt from classes six to 10, write well and are proficient in general knowledge, I can try and fan that spark in them,” he said.
The students discuss current affairs with their teacher on the ghat of the Ganga every single day.
“He believes that analysing news and current affairs can help us effectively tackle the questions in the general knowledge paper of the exam,” Prabhat from Musallahpur Haat in Saharsa district, one of the students who is an aspirant, told Gaon Connection.
Besides current affairs, the students discuss history, economics, political science, and anything else that is relevant to study, with their teacher.
Also Read: A wheelchair bound ‘teacher’ is changing lives of children with special needs in Kashmir
A desire to study and teach
Talking about his own childhood and youth, Arun Kumar recalled how his village Narkatya in Sitamarhi district had no school of its own. His father had teachers from schools in other villages staying with them at their home, so that his children could also learn something from them.
“My father was a graduate of Patna University and he wanted his children to study as well. He made sure we listened to BBC radio broadcasts,” said Arun Kumar reminiscing.
It was thanks to his father’s investment in his education that helped Arun Kumar crack the IAS, he said. But, he had decided that ultimately, he would start teaching.
The free coaching classes have been moving from one Ganga ghat to another, said Manchit Kumar, who takes care of the administrative work for Arun Kumar.
“In the beginning the classes were held at Barharwa Ghat, then it moved to Krishna Ghat but had to move from there too as there was some work being undertaken on the riverfront,” Manchit told Gaon Connection. Now the classes are held at Gandhi Ghat.
Also Read: Rod, finger, and glove puppets come alive in a village primary school in Mandsaur, MP
When the BPSC preliminary test results were announced in November 2022, there were 15 students of Arun Kumar who had trained under him on the banks of the Ganges, who cleared it. Students such as Swarnima, Amandeep, Pinky Kumari, Mayuresh, Nikhil Yadav and Sujit Kumar who came from various districts of the state to learn under Arun Kumar made it to the successful candidates in the preliminary list.
“There are four to five coaching centres in Patna that prepare students for BPSC and UPSC exams. But the fee to enrol into them is anything from Rs 70, 000 to one-and-a-half-lakh rupees,” Sujit Kumar, told Gaon Connection.
For students of less privileged families, that is a big amount. “For people like me, hope lies only with Arun Kumar Sir. I have cleared the preliminaries and I am even more motivated now,” Sujit said.
Arun Kumar also holds the post of the mukhiya of the Sinhvahina panchayat in Sitamarhi district of Bihar. He became the mukhiya (village head) on December 11, 2021. His wife, Ritu Jaiswal was formerly the mukhiya and is actively associated with the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal party.
"As a Mukhiya of the panchayat, my job is to focus on development, and raise questions to the government on social issues,” Arun Kumar said about his responsibilities. “The Singhwahini panchayat is today a model of development in Bihar,” he pointed out.