Muslim woman in Kerala, once unable to read and write due to spinal cord injury, cracks UPSC exam

Sherin Shahana, a tenacious young Muslim woman from Kambalakkad, has defied all odds to secure an impressive 913th place in the highly competitive 2022 Civil Services Examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). Her incredible achievement comes after enduring a life-changing accident and battling through numerous challenges along the way.

The news of Shahana’s accomplishment reached her while she lay in a hospital bed at Perinthalmanna in Malappuram district. Tragically, on May 16 this year, she was involved in a car accident on her way to Thamarassery from Kozhikode. The incident occurred as she was still recovering from a previous fall, which had occurred five years earlier and left her with a spinal cord injury, paralyzing her arms and lower body.

Recalling the fateful incident in 2017, Shahana vividly remembers slipping from the terrace of her house while attempting to retrieve clothes from the washing line. The fall resulted in two broken ribs and life-altering injuries. However, despite the profound impact on her mobility, she has persevered with unwavering determination.

In her quest to crack the Civil Services Examination, Shahana enrolled in the Absolute IAS Academy’s online program ‘Chitrashalabham,’ tailored specifically for aspiring civil servants with disabilities. Her journey also received support from Knowledge Resource Empowerment Activities (KREA), an initiative organized by Najeeb Kanthapuram, a Indian Union Muslim League leader and Perinthalmanna MLA. Shahana participated in their mock UPSC interview programs in Thiruvananthapuram, which helped her hone her skills and build confidence.

In a heartfelt video shared by NAJEEB Kanthapuram after the UPSC results were announced, Shahana candidly expressed the stark reality of her life before and after the fall. She revealed her struggle to perform even the simplest tasks, such as turning the pages of a book. However, Shahana’s unwavering spirit and resilience propelled her forward.

“The first thing I did to overcome my disability was to accept my disability,” Shahana revealed. This self-acceptance became the foundation for her confidence. She meticulously identified her abilities and limitations, enabling her to continue her studies despite the challenges.

Shahana completed her schooling at a government institution and obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from St Mary’s College in Sulthan Bathery.

Tragically, the terrace fall occurred the day after she finished her postgraduate examination in 2017, compounding the emotional strain following her father’s recent passing. The accident further affected her memory, leaving her unable to read, write, or perform basic tasks.

Throughout her arduous journey, Shahana found solace in the unwavering support of her mother, Amina, and her sister, Jalisha, a poet and influential writer on social media platforms.

Over the course of two years, Shahana gradually made progress with the guidance of Muralee Thummarukudy, an expert in disaster response and the Director of the Coordination Office of the G20 Initiative on Land. Thummarukudy assigned her tasks involving data collection and political analysis, bolstering her confidence and reaffirming her ability to contribute.

Despite relying on a scribe for her exams, Shahana’s determination led her to success. Recently, she joined a PhD program at Calicut University, a testament to her resilience and unyielding pursuit of knowledge.