Pooja Elangbam is fashionable, stylish, fun-loving, and intelligent. An alumnus of Welham Girls, St. Stephen’s College, and JNU University, she succeeded in the 2018 Civil Services Exam by securing the 81st rank. The daughter of an IPS father and a teacher mother, she is the third woman IAS officer from Manipur.
It is natural to be in awe of Pooja’s impressive academic credentials. But the cherry on the cake is her passion and commitment to spread sunshine among the hills and plains of her home state. The 29 year-old inspiration is a youth icon who teaches by drawing examples from her own life experiences.
“Race is a social construct just the way gender is a social construct,” says Pooja
Discrimination on the basis of one’s looks or ethnicity is a topic frequently discussed. Why do we sometimes feel like outsiders in our own country when we step out of our home-state?
In a recent seminar on racial diversity sensitization organized by the National Commission for Women, Pooja addresses this very sensitive topic.
It is a sad truth, but the story of people from the North East facing discrimination is one that has been told and retold countless times over the years. “Othering” is what Pooja has been repeatedly subjected to.
As an eleven-year-old in boarding school, she was asked by other kids which country she belonged to and if she was a princess. While in college and university, several times she was called “chinky” and “Chinese” on the street. Without any logic behind their thoughts, Pooja’s professors too were surprised at her academic excellence simply because she hailed from the North East.
Recounting what she had faced at different times, Pooja articulates her point of view with poise and dignity. She suggests remedies to abet the problem. Her ideas are simple, yet they make sense and can be implemented.
Pooja talks about a school curriculum that reflects India’s diversity. She sincerely feels that children need to be taught about different states from a young age. A friendly approach is to incorporate literature from different parts of the country in syllabi. She calls for representation in cinema, media, politics, and administration in order to bring the issues of the North East to the fore.
A beautiful analogy is drawn when she explains how the movie Black Panther gave visibility to black women by introducing the concept of the black woman superhero.
Pooja points out that recruitment in government services and corporate jobs needs to be looked at closely. She refers to a study done in the United States which came up with a noteworthy finding. During the job application process, white candidates were called back much more than black candidates with similar qualifications. She says that similar studies need to be done in India as well in order to assess whether candidates with “mainstream looks and mainstream names” are favored in the application process. Pooja emphasizes that racial diversity sensitization courses are of utmost importance just like the gender equality topics which are now gaining prominence.
Shining with academic excellence, Pooja has her tips for the youth
What is commendable is that Pooja is one of those candidates who never went to any of those coaching classes to appear for the competitive UPSC exam. A disciplined self-study approach is the regime she followed to excel.
Pooja has her suggestions for Civil Service aspirants and strongly believes that family or peer pressure should not drive them to take the exam. “Aspirants would need to find the reason why they wish to appear for the exam, and every time they find themselves wavering, it would be a good idea to revisit that,” she voices.
According to Pooja, one should not hesitate to seek advice from others. It is helpful to watch videos or read blogs by candidates who have already cleared the exam.
Preparing early for the exam is important, and setting a timetable to study is a must. Also, rather than focusing on the number of hours one is studying, a student should keep track of whether he or she is able to cover the syllabus and understand the topics in depth.
She admits that memorizing facts and figures is not an easy thing to do. What helped her was taking notes which she could look back upon later to get a good overview of topics.
Striving to promote love for books through Book Club Imphal
The club, created in 2019, is her brainchild. After she came back to Imphal upon the completion of her IAS training in Mussoorie, Pooja embarked on this journey of establishing a book club. She reached out to youngsters through social media, and the responses were positive.
The reading culture is on a decline due to the intervention of the internet, and Pooja wishes to inculcate the habit of reading among the members of the young generation. She believes that engaging them with books is a wise step to divert their attention and keep them away from addiction and other social ills.
Club members are introduced to art, literature, culture, travel, and other areas of varied interest.
To involve more youngsters and make it a fun experience, Pooja banks on the brilliant idea of organizing quizzes and other competitions. The club is an interactive platform for exchanging and discussing issues that can enrich the youth’s knowledge and make their lives more fulfilling.
A dynamism that shines bright!
A vibrant personality emerges from Pooja‘s Instagram posts. She gives us a peek into her life and into her moments with family and friends. We see her love for books, music, sports, and travel. This potpourri of passions blends with her dedication and commitment to give her best to the society she belongs to.
Saying that Pooja Elangbam stands out as an emblem of youth and female empowerment is stating the obvious. We wish for more icons like her whose voices reverberate to raise awareness and to prepare the upcoming generation for a better tomorrow!
(This article was featured in Women’s Web)