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Turning the ‘impossible’ into ‘possible’: Poonam Dalal Dahiya’s story of grit, persistence and conviction

11 December 2017
After securing 308th rank in UPSC exam, while fulfilling her duty as DSP of Haryana police and caring for her 3-month old son, Poonam is an inspiration for every working mother.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done”- Nelson Mandela

Family responsibilities often cause many to abandon their dreams and settle for less. However, when Poonam Dalal Dahiya decided to clear the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) exam and join the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), she didn’t let motherhood or police duty stop her. So, what does it take to be like her?

The journey
Poonam was born in a middle-class home in Jhajjar, Haryana. For a few years she donned different hats- a primary teacher in Delhi, a Probationary Officer at State Bank of India and even joined the Income Tax Department.

Related: From a domestic violence victim to director of a successful business: How Bharati Sumaria’s love for her children changed her life

The idea of taking the UPSC exam came to her when she secured 7th rank in the SSC Graduate Level Examination. Poonam first attempted to clear the exam at the age of 28. At the time, she was already married to Asim Dahiya, who was employed in the Customs Excise Department.

Meanwhile, she cleared the Haryana PSC exam and was recruited into the Haryana police as Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) in 2011. That year, Poonam failed the UPSC prelims and had almost given up all hope.

A turn of fate
After her third attempt, Poonam reached an age that made it unable for her to retake the exam. However, a fortunate turn of events led the government to offer unsuccessful candidates yet another chance. “It felt like the whole universe was conspiring to make my dream come true,” she says. Poonam wanted to grab this unexpected opportunity, but by then she had a three-month-old baby who needed her attention. “I had to find a way to study, without letting my son or duty suffer because of it,” she adds.

Not without my family
“My father has been a big inspiration. He made sure I received a good formal education,” says Poonam. Hailing from a small village, Poonam’s parents always encouraged her to pursue her dreams. “I have two brothers, and both helped me study for the exam,” she adds.

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Poonam had a tough time trying to manage hardcore policing along with spending time with her son. Her husband and her in-laws, too, helped take care of her baby to ensure she had enough time to study for the exam.

If that isn’t enough, while juggling her studies, police duty and taking care of her son, Poonam even wrote a book titled ‘Ancient and Medieval India’. The book includes material that can be used by aspiring candidates, who are appearing for various state public service and Union Civil Services examinations. 

Major challenges
“The biggest challenge, while attempting to pass the exam, was to keep believing in myself and my capabilities,” she says. Moreover, she feels that she lacked proper guidance. “None of my friends were preparing for this exam or knew anything about it. Had I earlier known that the UPSC was my calling, I would have started preparing for it much in advance,” she says. 
Moreover, by the time Poonam had another chance of sitting for the exam she had completely lost touch with syllabus. “It felt like starting from scratch,” she adds.   

Related: Yoddhas: Rahul Yadhav’s tale of acceptance, survival and creating a community to overcome cancer

Poonam wishes that her son is passionate about his dreams, just like she has been all her life. When asked what she wants for her son, Poonam says “I just want him to be happy, content and a good human being.” She prefers that her son be a ‘better’ individual than a ‘successful’ one, as she feels society needs to have more good people. 

On gender equality
Poonam considers herself a feminist, and fiercely believes in gender equality. “Just sending a girl to school is not enough. A woman needs to be given equal opportunities along with the freedom to make her own decisions and choices,” she says. She adds that women should not let their gender, family responsibilities or anything else stop them from pursuing their career or dreams.

Related: Lightening up lives: How Varsha emerged from her blindness to became a volunteer for change

Advice for women
“The key is to balance your personal and professional lives. Don’t be shy about asking your family members for help,” Poonam says. She adds that it is very important for a woman to communicate with her family. Poonam’s life is an inspiration to all women who frequently find themselves caught between aggressively pursuing their career and handling a family. But she also shows that anything can be achieved if you put your mind and hard work into it. 



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