Never before in the history of the UPSC has there been so much brouhaha over the pattern and paradigm of the Civil Services Examination, the most premier examination of the country, as now has been. The row over the CSAT paper, one of the papers of the preliminary examinations, is refusing to die with each passing day. There is rampant anger among the aspirants that is visible from pavements to the inside of the well of the Parliament. Even the Union government’s latest landmark decision of dumping the weightage of English comprehension paper-II in preparing the merit list and gradation of the aspirants has not succeeded in taming the rage and ending the protest over the controversial CSAT of the Union Public Service Commission’s civil services examinations. The vociferous demand of the civil services examination aspirants to completely do away with the CSAT paper, allegedly told to be inclined in the favour of the so-called English medium-convent-educated fluent English-speaking 21st century generation of the modern age, needs to be read between the lines and also merits the need of looking into the deadlock from the various angles of fresh soul-searching and propriety of practical strategic modus operandi of running the bureaucratic system of the largest democratic nation like ours.
What is CSAT?
The UPSC implemented CSAT (Civil Services Aptitude Test), a new pattern of preliminary examinations for the selection of candidate for the mains examination. This is the first stage of the three-stage UPSC examinations which finally selects candidates for the appointment to the various posts of the central government. The inherent purpose of introduction of the CSATwas to emphasise upon the test of skills and reasoning of the prospective civil servants who brave the critical challenges of running the nation on behalf of the central government. The CSAT came into force in 2011. The UPSC conducts three stages of examinations for the selection of candidates for the appointment to various posts of the central government including IAS, IPS and IFS. CSAT, the most significant screening test of candidates for the Mains examination, replaces the modus operandi of erstwhile preliminary examinations which as per the reports of expert committees and administrative panels would help choose the candidates who would be better equipped with reasoning power and fast decision-making aptitude. The rest two stages of mains and interview remain the same. As per the decisions of the Government of India, from 2011 onwards the Preliminary Examinations shall now comprise of two compulsory papers of 200 marks each of 2 hours duration. Earlier the prelim examination consisted of two papers—one of the General Studies of 150 marks and other that of one of the 23 optional subjects of 300 marks. Now the prelims examination has been divided into two sections of General Studies and CSAT. The General Studies paper has 100 questions while that of CSAT has 80 questions. However the required marks to qualify General Studies paper is 30 while it is 70 for the CSAT paper. The second part of the prelim examination viz, CSAT comprises of questions based upon the communication skill, logical reasoning and analytical ability, decision-making and problem solving, general mental ability, basic arithmetic, data interpretation and English comprehension. These all tests are of the tenth standard level.
Solutions and food for thought
There is no denying the fact that optimum knowledge of English, the most popular lingua franca across the states in the nation and over the countries in the world, is a sine qua non of the sound administration and flawless regulation of the government, especially in a mutli-lingual, multi-religious and multi-ethnic nation like India. That is why the test of English as a foreign language is not the anathema and nor the root of the problems but the way the translation of English questions is rendered with the exact copy of google search engine’s literal translation for the Hindi-opting candidates seems to be out of context and irrational. The agitating students say that this seems to be ploy to distance Hindi—medium—educated-rural background-humanities students out of the powerful and glorious halo and coterie of the civil servants of the nation.
At this critical stage the big question that springs up is: What is the permanent amicable solution of this biggest controversy over the biggest examination of the land? Would the dropping of English Comprehension Test in the gradation and merit making provide any relief to the agitating students? But before that we must look into the matter that goes beyond the face value of the lingual supremacy. Hindi has been honoured with the glorious status of national language of the country but the big question which we must soul-search about is: For how many millions of the Indian population and for how many states of the country is Hindi a national language? The importance of English, enforced by Macaulay during the colonial period, is still ruling the roost in the form of CSAT and a string of other TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language) that Indian citizens have to appear at for entry into the various prominent areas of employment and entrance test abroad. In fact, CSAT does not only represent one of the test papers of the most premier government sector post of the nation. Nor does it show how good or bad we perform in it. What the government and the policy makers of the country must not forget that the parameter of assessment of language of English via examination that of ilk of CSAT only mirrors the century- old colonial mentality for the freedom of which we and our patriots had once fought a fierce battle. Who can deny that we need yet another freedom struggle-the struggle not for the attainment of political independence and republican sovereignty but freedom from the lingual slavery, lingual apartheid and bankrupt mentality?
It is high time the UPSC must provide high quality Hindi translation which should not be the matter of discrimination against the Hindi-medium and rural background students. A few technical changes in the form of changing the weightage of the various papers at the prelim examination yearly or absolutely scrapping the test of English may prove to be highly beneficial for the students who have so far been feeling to have been cheated. And more than anything else, the UPSC must make all efforts to make the civil services examination standardized and uniform irrespective of the differences in the background and lingual parameters of nearly half of a million of the aspirants who write the paper every year. Apart from all these options of solution to the present imbroglio we also must not forget that majority of the developed nations of the world are emphasising upon the importance of their national languages even in this global age and their citizens are playing the vital role in the development of their motherlands via their national languages then what about the hypocrisy and pseudo-cultural- nationalism which we still are carrying even after more than six decades of our freedom only to placate the various segments of the society in the name of keeping the integrity of the nation intact?
By Shreeprakash Sharma