Over a third of India’s prestigious foreign service officers are from backward communities, but at the top of the service, officers from these communities are under-represented, new official data shows.
In his written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha from Congress MP from Karnataka B. V. Naik, Minister of State for External Affairs V. K. Singh said on December 2 that of the 718 IFS officers posted in the Ministry’s headquarters and at various missions overseas, 107 were OBCs, 96 were SCs and 54 STs. Nearly 65 per cent, or 461 officers in all, belonged to the “general” category.
At the top end of the service, Ambassadors and High Commissioners from Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) were posted to 26 countries over the last three years, Mr. Singh’s reply said.
In a reply to the Lok Sabha last year, Mr. Singh had said that there were 127 ambassadors, high commissioners and permanent representatives with the rank of ambassador across the world. SC, ST and OBC officers, then, accounted for fewer than one in five of those at the top of the service.
Questions about the representation of people from marginalised communities in the Foreign Service are frequently asked in Parliament. As in the past, the Minister’s reply to a sub-question on the norms for selection to the top posts stated that “Ambassadors and High Commissioners are selected in keeping with the requirements in a particular Diplomatic Mission, and their overall suitability including experience, seniority and regional and professional experience.” However young IFS officers from disadvantaged backgrounds say that they start off with a substantial handicap. “Our English is much worse, we have to do a lot of work on our etiquette and we don’t have the networks and connections that those who come from elite families have,” a young OBC IFS officer said, asking that he not be named.
This glass ceiling exists across India’s administrative services. SCs form fewer than two per cent of secretaries and additional secretaries.