The much coveted Civil Services Examination (CSE) conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) is mired in controversies, this time with regard to the English component of CSAT. The debate is not just triggered by anti-English rhetoric; it pertains to sociological equity and balance, upward social mobility, and constitutional propriety.
Conducted in three stages, - preliminary, main, and interview - the CSE is the exam through which candidates for the prestigious IAS, IFS, IPS and the like are selected. The imbroglio is related to the preliminary stage, which was introduced in a new format in 2011. This format called CSAT is said to have been designed to favour English speakers at the cost of Hindi or other regional language speaking students belonging to small towns who studied in government schools. In fact, the nature of the Civil Services, right from the introduction of the British Royal Public Commission in 1882, has been elitist. It was meant not to serve the public, rather rule the people. And the examination has been designed accordingly.
Initially suiting and favouring the British and later the children affluent class studying in Convent schools, the pattern of the exam remained almost the same, even after three decades of Independence.
It revolved around English, both as a medium of writing the test and answering the interview. One was supposed to be conversant with English and its nuances, if s/he wanted to get through the test. It was only when the CSE was started in Hindi and other regional languages, students from modest backgrounds started gaining success. It must be mentioned that in the Main exam, the English language paper is very much there and continues to be so. Its standard is also reasonably high, and clearing it unfailingly indicates fair knowledge of English.
But yes! Its marks are not added to the total marks for selection, although one must pass this paper. Here if one fails, the copies of the other papers of the Main exam are not evaluated. Since its marks were not added, English medium educated students hardly got any advantage over the students having Hindi or other Indian languages. But in the CSAT, introduced in 2011, English language comprehension skill (the 7th component of the 2nd paper 'Aptitude' of CSAT), was inserted through the back door. Curiously nowhere there is any reference to the English language comprehension component in the Alagh committee report, which was submitted after thorough and insightful research. On the basis of the report, changes in CSE were made.
But suddenly armed with the recommendation of a new panel (S K Khanna) the UPSC added the English language comprehension component to the second paper titled 'Aptitude' of CSAT. The point is not the difficulty level of these questions, but the inclusion of marks obtained in these questions to the total. This eliminates most of Hindi or other Indian language students at the very first round. I had asked for information through RTI regarding the CSE of 2005 to 2011 from UPSC in June 2012. One of the answers, pertinent to the present issue was very startling.
According to data from 2005 to 2010, the number of candidates passing through Hindi medium in Preliminary exam was not much less in comparison to English medium candidates. But introduction of the English language comprehension component in the Preliminary stage, saw a fall in the number of students passing through Hindi medium in comparison to English medium candidates.
In 2011, when CSAT with the English language component was started, 9,324 candidates appeared in the Main exam in the English medium after passing the preliminary exam whereas the number of the candidates appearing in the Hindi medium in the Main exam clearing the preliminary was reduced to only 1,700.
The reason was obvious; these candidates couldn't cross the well-entrenched barriers of English. This is not to deny that global India doesn't need English. As a civil servant one may have to work internationally, but it doesn't mean that one has to be a scholar of English. In any case, English knowledge is reasonably tested in the Main exam. Moreover this English competence can be further improved later on. One must remember that Hindi language students posted in Tamil Nadu , Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh or Kerala as an IAS or IPS officer learn the concerned regional languages and work in it. Similar is the case of south Indian students, who learn proper Hindi in north Indian states.
While hearing a PIL against the English language component of CSAT last year, the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court Rajiv Sahai Endlaw observed, "Even if the standard of test of English language, in the competitive as well as the non-competitive/qualifying segment of the examination be the same, to our mind, while the candidate scoring merely qualifying marks and the candidate scoring 100% marks, in the non competitive /qualifying segment would be at par, the difference of 22.5 or 30 marks in the PE/CSAT is likely to eliminate the low scorer from the race." Another point of contention is related to the 1st component - 'Comprehension' of 'Aptitude' paper where questions are asked in English or Hindi (for Hindi medium students).
However the Hindi version of the passages are literal translations, which are unfathomable. To cite an examplethe Hindi translation of the book 'Indian Constitution of D.D.Basu, popular with UPSC aspirants, is not comprehensible even for a Hindi medium student.
It is hoped, the new dispensation at the Centre and UPSC will rectify these anomalies to ensure a level playing field.
The writer is a professor in the Department of Hindi in Delhi University.