Sweta Agarwal IAS was born in a joint family having 28 members at Bhadreswar in Hooghly district of West Bengal. Everyone in the house was expecting a boy and Sweta’s arrival did not please anyone but her parents. A boy would carry on the family traditions, said the relatives.
But Sweta’s parents ignored all such insinuations and offered her full support. When Sweta grew up, relatives even objected to giving her a good education. But the young woman overcame all such hurdles to earn a degree, did her post-graduation, secured an MBA and joined a multi-national firm. But she did not rest there but attempted the Civil Service exam and cleared it thrice. Initially, Sweta was allotted IRS and in the following attempt IPS. Finally, she made it to IAS with All-India Rank 19, giving a fitting reply to everyone who had frowned on the birth of a girl.
Clearing early hurdles
Sweta’s parents were told by relatives after her birth that they should try for a male progeny or adopt a boy. When they refused to heed to such a demand, everyone turned against Sweta’s parents. But the couple was unfazed and sent Sweta to a convent school that charged a fee of Rs 165, which was a big amount those days. The future civil service topper’s father ran a grocery shop and worked as a daily wager to earn this money.
Those days, kids visiting relatives were gifted small amounts of cash. While the other children spent this money - which came to around Rs 5 - on sweets, Sweta handed it over to her mother to pay her fees. It was by studying hard that the young girl repaid her parents for the troubles they took.
By the time Sweta cleared her Class 10, the financial condition of her father had improved, but the relatives were still not on cordial terms. When Sweta joined college, her uncle commented that there was no use educating girls. However, Sweta and her parents had learnt to face such discouraging statements squarely.
The young girl soon proved a point by clearing the degree course in Economics from the prestigious St Xavier’s College with first class. She was also among the first 15 toppers. She went to earn a post-graduation as well as an MBA and landed a position in the corporate world with Deloitte.
A goal is set
As a child, Sweta was inspired by the presence of a police station about 500 m from her home. She wanted to become a police officer one day and often played with a gun, her only toy, posing as a cop. However, an ordeal Sweta faced in a government office while studying in Class 12 gave her a new goal. She was sent from one official to another for over 45 minutes and the doughty girl announced to the staff that she would become the District Collector one day.
To realize these childhood dreams of becoming a police officer and a Collector, Sweta decided to quit her corporate job after 13 months. But her superior officer at Deloitte asked Sweta, “Why are you foregoing a job at hand for attempting an exam that a mere 90 people clear of the over 5 lakh who attempt it?” But the young woman replied with confidence that she would indeed be one among those 90 winners.
However, things were not favourable back in Bhadreswar. Relatives exerted pressure on Sweta’s parents to marry her off. Sweta joined a coaching class for Civil Service exam but discontinued it soon. She took the advice of some Civil Service exam winners and started the preparations on her own. But she could not study properly at home and considered giving it all up. In this situation, her parents supported and encouraged Sweta yet again and she sat for the preliminary exam for the first time. However, she failed to clear it.
Even though her first attempt was not a success, Sweta was certain that she could clear the exam by hard work. But realizing that the preparations from home would take her nowhere, the young woman rented a single room flat in Kolkata and shifted there alone. Problems again began at home. Relatives frowned on a single woman of marriageable age living all by herself, but Sweta told them that she would certainly become an IAS officer soon.
When the notification for the Civil Service exam of 2013 was released, everyone panicked as the syllabus had been thoroughly revamped. However, Sweta was unperturbed and secured the All-India Rank of 497. She was allotted IRS, but having set IAS as her goal, the young woman decided to try again.
Meanwhile, her relatives again started pestering Sweta with wedding plans. “I can attempt the Civil Service exam only till a particular age, but marriage can take place at any age,” she reminded them.
When the 2015 Civil Service results were published, Sweta learnt that she had improved her position. She secured the Indian Police Service with Rank 141, missing IAS by a mere 10 marks. One childhood dream of becoming a police officer was now fulfilled, but the final goal of IAS still remained. Swetha made another attempt.
On May 10, 2016, while waiting for a flight to Indore as part of her IPS training, Sweta received the long-awaited call. “Sweta - All-India Rank 19,” said her friend. A five-year-old wait had come to a happy end. Civil Service topper in West Bengal, Sweta believes that the victory belongs to her parents, who trusted her, worked hard for their daughter and also faced much insults from relatives.