When Gaurav Thakur, a civil services aspirant from Bihar, had to return to his hometown to look after his ailing father in February 2020, he would not have imagined that the whole world will come to a halt due to a minuscule virus.
Thakur (33), who had rushed to his native place with a few belongings, including limited study material, lost his father a month before his UPSC prelims exams.
"I had gone there to take care of my father and all of a sudden a nationwide lockdown was announced. I did not have my books with me, we were not allowed to step out of the house, internet connection was not that good and on top of all this, the emotional and mental stress of an ailing family member affected me a lot. Despite all this, I took the preliminary exam but could not clear it," he told IANS.
Over a hundred Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) aspirants staged a 'Satyagrah' at the Jantar Mantar on Wednesday to demand an extra attempt in lieu of the one lost during the first wave of Coronavirus. Among these, a majority of the aspirants have either crossed the age-bar, or have exhausted their last attempt in October last year.
They had earlier knocked the apex court's door to allow them one more attempt on humanitarian ground. However, on July 22, the top court had refused to direct the Central government and UPSC to grant an extra chance to them.
"We went to the court at the peak of Covid-19 where we were assured that our case will be taken up and giving relaxation will be considered to those who took the exam in 2020. But they sat over it and did nothing. Even now when we meet the MPs and MLAs, they seem sympathetic towards us and tell us that they will do something to help us, but words are all we have got until now," said Bhushan Chaudhary, who has come from Maharashtra.
Another aspirant is Vidya, a frontline Covid worker who had graduated from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in 2018 and had planned to prepare for the civil services exam.
"When Covid struck in March 2020, I took to the field and like every other doctor, I was constantly amid Covid patients in a single PPE kit for about 12-15 hours. During that time, I was working to serve my people. But in the back of my mind, I was sure that we will be compensated by the government," she said, adding, "After the dates for the prelims were announced, I took the exam but since I was unable to prepare for the same, I couldn't clear it."
Pallavi, a MSc pass out, said she had been preparing for UPSC since 2017. "During the pandemic, I lost my Dadi and Nani, while my mother too tested positive for Covid. She was hospitalised for one-and-a-half months, and after being discharged, she had a heart issue. All my time was spent taking care of my family."
Both Vidya and Pallavi have three more attempts left.
Vikram, a Delhi government employee, who worked at quarantine centres during the first wave of the pandemic last year, has a similar woe.
"Out of my five attempts, I reached the mains on all five occasions and made it to the interview stage once. During the first wave of the pandemic, we were not even supposed to return to our respective homes. We were unable to eat and sleep properly, forget about studying. I was sure that since these are unusual times, the government and the UPSC will give us one more chance to test ourselves. But now the preliminary exams for 2021 have taken place, and aspirants like me are more worried about our one lost attempt."
Rahul Kumar form Lucknow said that during the pandemic, the government has done something for almost every section of the society. "However, aspirants and students like feel left out. All we are asking for is another attempt, not a seat," he said.