When 2016 batch IAS toppers Tina Dabi and Athar Amir Khan had tied knots two years ago, they became stars of social media and inspiration for many. Now two years later, as the couple separate, this has brought the attention of many to the marriages of young civil servants ho begin their courtships while in training at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) in Mussoorie.
The marriage of Dabi and Khan, who secured the first and second ranks, respectively, in the 2016 UPSC exam, was inarguably the most talked-about, with the likes of Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu, former Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan, and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad attending their wedding in 2018. However, there have been over 70 marriages among officers in the last three years alone, according to officials in the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT).
“There could be an upward trend in the number of marriages among officers in the last few years, but it is not a new trend for sure,” said a senior DoPT official. “Over the years, with more women also coming into the civil services, the numbers have increased, but marriages among officers have existed since decades.”
From social prestige to similar professional experiences and pressures, from consolidating power to getting more promising cadres, the reasons why civil servants pick colleagues as life partners are several. But the road ahead is anything but smooth, say those in the field.
Similar pressures can often lead to tension rather than understanding, and similar experiences and career prospects can turn into ego battles, they add.
And the promise of the same cadre does not take away the years of long-distance or “weekend marriages”, as officers can seldom be in the same district even if they are in the same state.
Explaining the phenomenon of marriages among officers, S.P. Singh, a retired UP cadre IAS officer of the 1982 batch, said “People come to LBSNAA at the age 27-30 on average. This is the time when most people are seeking matches. At LBSNAA, people feel their career path is clear, they have settled professionally, and they are of the eligible age, so they seek matches within the academy.
“It’s also a function of the fact that a fellow officer is seen as more or less equally competent, so there is a professional parity of sorts,” he added.
D. Roopa, an IPS officer of the Karnataka cadre who is married to IAS officer Manish Moudgil, added another dimension to Singh’s argument.
“It is true that people are seen as more or less equally competent so there is parity, but for women, it becomes particularly helpful if their spouse belongs to the civil service because then there is at least some understanding of the work pressures, which then eases out the social expectations placed upon them,” she said.
Yet, the phenomenon of women seeking husbands who are professionally and economically better off than them is found in the civil services as well, added Roopa.
“Most of the marriages happen between women from services like the railways to IAS-IPS men because it is so ingrained in women to seek ‘superior’ partners… But you will rarely see the reverse,” she said. “The provider mentality is as present among civil servants as among anyone else.”
Marriages become trickier when they are among IAS officers or between IAS and IPS officers, Roopa added. Several other officers echoed the claim, adding that postings in different districts and high pressures can often result in discord.
These marriages are also a bit of a headache for the government, which needs to redo the painstaking task of cadre allocation when IAS, IPS and IFS officers choose to get married to each other, in order to ensure that the couple remains in the same state.
According to DoPT rules, inter-cadre transfers of officers of the All India Services are permitted on account of marriage. Until three years ago, two officers who chose to get married to each other would be given a common cadre that wasn’t the home cadre of either. However, in 2017, the central government further eased the rules and allowed the allocation of a cadre that could be the home state of either of the two officers.
While officers across the services acknowledge the trend of LBSNAA marriages, most said the unions are “cadre-based”.
“It is well-known that people at LBSNAA mostly get married for cadres,” said a batchmate of Dabi and Khan. “People who do not want to go to the Northeast or Jammu & Kashmir, often choose spouses from more secure cadres like UP, Maharashtra, Bihar… The government cannot deny them this right, so everything works out well,” the officer added. “But most marriages are marriages of convenience.”
Other officers agreed. “Civil services are seen as a way to attain power. And marriages among civil servants are a way to consolidate that power,” said a railway services officer of the 2016 batch. “Most of these marriages are very well thought-out arrangements.”
It is no surprise then that, according to some officers, divorce rates among officers are high.
“A lot of these marriages do not last. It is improper to comment on individual cases, but in my batch itself, there have been four divorces in the last two years,” said the 2016-batch IAS officer.
There are multiple reasons for this. “Egos among IAS, IPS officers are very high,” said Singh. “If you see, marriages between an IPS husband and an IAS wife seldom last just because the husband cannot bear the wife’s quicker career progression and growth.”
In addition, there is also the fact that both the spouses are financially and professionally independent, thereby reducing their need to put up with an unhappy relationship.
But Roopa gives a woman’s perspective on the issue. “When it comes to ensuring that one of the spouses takes up a less prestigious posting to be in the same district as the other, it is more often than not, the woman. Men still do expect you to take care of the house, come back before them, and for several women officers, expectations of in-laws are something they have to navigate through… These things are just understood,” she said.
However, she added that divorces among civil servants are still less common.
“Divorces may have increased over the years because that is what is happening in society in general, but civil servants are still conservative about divorce,” she said. “It is like politicians. There is so much public glare that it acts as a deterrent.”