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Regressive notification or forward thinking?

Updated: April 6, 2013 2:22 pm

The pervasive condemnation of the changes notified by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) recently in the matter of involving the language component in the Civil Services examination has evoked mixed feelings, as English has been given a more prominent place than regional languages, including Hindi. The UPSC’s controversial notification, however, put on hold, gives English seemingly a decisive role in the Civil Services examination, which will deny a large numbers of aspiring candidates their rightful place.

As per the new rules, the marks for the English language paper will be included to the overall tally in the Civil Service examination. Earlier, candidates were required to qualify in the English language paper without its marks being added to the overall score.

Further, the notification evidently manifests that a candidate from Maharashtra, who has not completed his college education in Marathi, cannot become a civil servant as he would not be adept in English.

In several states of the country, most of the students study in regional languages till Standard XII. They take English only when they enter college. Undoubtedly, their level of proficiency in English cannot be compared with those studying in English-medium schools. However, if we take the records of the IITs & IIMs, most of the students are from non-English backgrounds, and in performance they academically stand way ahead from their peers. The civil services examination is a pan-Indian service, and the chosen few are expected to take up work in any part of the country. One of the basic tenets of the IAS is that the probationer should learn the language of the place where he is posted within six months. This is a dictum which even the corporate sector is now adopting.

If Macaulay would have been alive, he would be tickled pink. The hue and cry that evoked on the decision of making English the de-facto standard for Indian Civil Services was expected. The fact that India, a nation with the largest number of ethnic languages in the world, adopts a colonial language as the accepted medium of communication will not be taken down easily by the dyed in the wool nationalists. They have been all along crying themselves hoarse over the continuing of the ICS after Independence, albeit in a different form called the Indian Administrative Service. Gandhi openly advocated an abolition of the Civil Service as it would keep the majority of the people enslaved under a few bureaucrats.

On the hindsight, the advantages that the English language has brought to the nation cannot be ignored. The literacy rate is the highest in the states which have a preponderance of English as the accepted medium. One cannot deny that eminence that Indians have achieved in the world diaspora of science, technology, medicine and the literary arts is because of the English language. The north-eastern states are an example of the development, which the language has brought, but alas, the development is deeply lined with Christian missionary procrastination.

The day is not far when every fifth person employed outside the Indian mainland would be an Indian. The correct knowledge of English would be a prerequisite. The Chinese and Russians took a back seat in the international arena just because of their lack of English. They are fast catching up. Even chauvinistic Japan is now waking up and has introduced the language in the school level.

In the last few years, the UPSC has become the Urban Public Service Commission. In 2011, it made mandatory e-submission of forms for preliminaries and mains. In a country where the government is yet to provide electricity to all villages, how can rural candidates have access to the Internet? More than 60 per cent of India lives in such villages. The UPSC needs a revamp, and there are many other pressing issues that should have been taken up.

It is noteworthy to say here that a country that does not cherish its cultural and linguistic heritage cannot carve a niche among the comity of nations and hence cannot prosper. English is not any international language; it is one of the six official languages of the UN (English, French, Russian, Spanish, Chinese and Arabic). Hindi and Bengali are the fourth and sixth in the list of world languages.

India has the highest number of poor in the world—41 per cent of the world’s poor are Indians (earning less than 1$ per day). The highest numbers of slum-dwellers are in India—58 per cent of the people who don’t use toilets are Indians. By the way, according to some media reports, the highest numbers of English-speaking people are also Indians.

The nay-sayers will always show a co-relationship between English and all our problems and the need to make Bharat an independent nation and not just a former British colony. While we need to change as a society and get our act together to preserve our languages and develop them accordingly, at the same time we cannot afford mere jingoistic chauvinism, which will deter us on the path ahead.

Deepak Kumar Rath

Deepak Kumar Rath

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