From UP Village to Oxford to IPS: The Inspiring Story of a Farmer’s Iron-Willed Daughter


The daughter of a small farmer in Kundarki town in Moradabad district, Uttar Pradesh, Ilma Afroz was destined for a life of public service. At the age of 26, she chose to leave a life and opportunity in New York City in order to assist in the collective realisation of the Indian dream; a dream of progress, peace, and prosperity. She was inducted into the prestigious Indian Police Service in August 2018.

Her journey to the Indian Police Service, however, was fraught with challenges and obstacles. Her father had died of cancer when she was only 14 years old. After her father passed away, her mother had to take on all of the responsibilities of raising her 14-year-old daughter and her 12-year-old son alone.

“My mother raised my younger brother and I all on her own. She is a very strong woman. Instead of quietly accepting the norm—saving up for a girl’s dowry and marrying her off—she gave me the chance to fulfil my potential,” says Ilma, in an interview with The Better India.

After graduating from high school in her hometown, Ilma attended the famous St Stephen’s College in Delhi where she studied philosophy.

In describing her experiences at St Stephen’s College in a recent interview with The Better India, Ilma says, “The three years I spent studying philosophy at St Stephen’s, were the best years of my life so far. Learning the subject in an environment where professors can closely engage with students helped me imbibe important lessons. We learnt so much outside the classroom as well. Learning philosophy encourages one to think on their own.”

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To her, the undergraduate course helped to lay the foundation of her eventual transition to public service.

“I learnt to formulate an argument, write convincingly and listen patiently. In class, we would read, discuss and debate Gandhiji and weigh what impact would a particular decision have in facilitating change in the life of the last person (antodaya) in the darkest village. The six schools of Indian Philosophy taught me to appreciate the diversity of thought and value systems. As the

Kena Upanishad says, ‘knowledge is like Uma Himavati—bahushobhaniyam; the most illuminating of all,’” she explained in her interview with The Better India.

Through her hard work and dedication, Ilma competed for and was awarded a scholarship to attend the world-renowned Oxford University. She attended Wolfson College for her Master’s wherein she had the opportunity to witness events at the world-renowned Oxford Union debating hall. These events included discussions and debates with students, faculty, and intellectuals from around the world.

Ilma Afroz during her time in Oxford University.

This experience and exposure was life-changing for her and enabled her to appreciate a variety of worldviews.
After completing her degree in the UK, she moved to New York City to attend a voluntary service programme in the Manhattan area. But she felt that something was missing.

In describing what she felt was missing, she explained in an interview with The Better India that:

“Every single day when I returned to my room in downtown Manhattan, I would yearn for home. For Ammi, and her smile. I would look out from the window of my room at New York skyline and watch the matchbox-like yellow taxis swarming the streets—a ubiquitous image associated with the American dream. I asked myself will my Oxford education go towards running after a ‘foreign dream’?

She felt inspired by Gandhi-ji’s dream to ‘wipe every tear from every eye’ and wanted to use her education to help the nation.

She reflected that whenever she would return home for the holidays, everyone would look to her with joy as someone who will “take away our pain.” She was sought out by relatives and acquaintances to help with tasks like acquiring a ration card, filling a form ,or taking someone for cataract surgery.

She knew that her happiness would be found at home with her ammi, family, and friends. It was then that she realised that applying for the civil services would present her with the ultimate opportunity to work for the betterment of people in India. She then left New York and she returned home.

Ilma cleared her exam in 2017 with an all-India rank of 217. After clearing the exam, she was inducted in the IPS and allocated the Himachal Pradesh cadre. She will soon undergo a 16-month training programme.

Ilma’s future seems bright indeed. But she emphasizes that none of this would have been possible without the sacrifices made by her mother and younger brother.

Also Read: How Indian Muslim Women are Left Out of the Progressive Narrative

“My mother taught me the value of hard work. My brother didn’t save money for my dowry. Instead, he spent it on my education. Ammi and bhaiyya made numerous sacrifices to educate me,” she explained in her interview with The Better India.

While her ground duty is yet to begin with the IPS, Ilma has begun to fulfill her goal of furthering the Indian dream. In her home village Kundarki, she founded a grassroots community network, Hope, that promotes education for underprivileged children.

Ilma feels determined to help enable young students to fulfill their immense potential, to do well in school, and to one day, choose to give back to the nation.

Ilma is firmly embedded in national ethos, and believes that the Constitution of India is the guiding light for all of us. There is great comfort in knowing that Kundarki’s pride will be entrusted to enforce the law and is determined to fulfill her duties to the nation.

Originally published by: The Better India

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