By Anusha Sundar:
On the 25th of July’14, after the Union Public Service Commission began handing out admit cards for the year’s upcoming Civil Services Examinations, the young aspirants took to the streets in protest. Their anger was centred on the unfair nature of the examination’s CSAT paper which they believe discriminated against candidates from the non-English and the Humanities background. Continuing with their protests despite several brutal police crackdowns, they demand a removal of the CSAT and that the UPSC look into this matter seriously without a coloured lens. Although, on face value, this issue might simply seem as a case of the CSAT vs. protesting aspirants, the concern is much larger and attention needs to be focused on the UPSC’s lack of a more inclusive and a non-biased approach.
The Civil Service Examinations are conducted in three stages: preliminary, main and a final interview. The Preliminary Stage Examinations underwent a change in the year 2011 to include two Civil Service Aptitude Test (CSAT I and II) papers of two hundred marks each. It is the CSAT paper II that has been the centre of all commotion these past few months. The paper aims at testing the aptitude of the applicants, carries questions on problem-solving, logical and analytical ability, reasoning and communication skills and the English language understanding ability. The protests have rightly focused on the prejudiced nature of the CSAT examination which gives undue importance to the English language. The UPSC’s demand that its civil servants have a good command over the English language will not be problematic if the state ensures that all schools – rural or urban, government or private, provide decent English language training. When there is hardly any equal standing for the UPSC aspirants, the CSAT pattern of questions will only be an added burden. The fact that the UPSC has made it obligatory for applicants to appear for CSAT II raises two significant questions: why do we grant unnecessary importance to English by giving it precedence over other vernacular languages and why have we come to associate a certain degree of esteem and essentiality with the knowledge of the English Language?
Observations made by the All India Students’ Association (AISA) based on the Annual Reports published by the UPSC confirm a stark fall in the number of vernacular candidates appearing for the Mains, post- CSAT.
While it is understandable that a basic knowledge of communicative English is a useful tool in the administrative services, the UPSC cannot expect to make it mandatory for clearing the examination, especially when the state has not ensured an equal footing for all applicants. If indeed the UPSC deems the knowledge of English language necessary, they could always conduct coaching sessions after the candidates have passed the Civil Service Examinations.
It is a similarly prejudiced scenario with the CSAT II alienating students from the Humanities background. With a paper that is focused more on Science and Mathematics, Humanities students face the brunt of the exclusiveness that the UPSC practices. The data from UPSC’s Annual Report demonstrates that there has been a drop in Civil Service recruits from the Humanities background by over 15% after CSAT became mandatory for clearing the preliminary examinations.
In an epic case of adding fuel to the fire, the Government came down heavily on Civil Service aspirants protesting against the UPSC’s elitism. Not only is the Government’s action unnecessary considering that these protests were peaceful, but also highly against the statutes of a Democracy that we live in. Protests are age old methods to signify disapproval or difference of opinions and non-violent marches are often a symbol of citizen participation and activism. A democracy can only function efficiently when the affected are empowered to speak their mind. Instead of facing the issue head on and deliberating with students to reach a consensus, the State decision to employ a police crackdown seems like an immature way to handle a sensitive situation. The rough treatment meted out to the protesters by the police show disturbing signs of an increasing intolerant and repressive State. Brute force might act as an impediment to the protests but will never calm the anger that inspires it. When will an average Indian be able to speak his mind without being beaten up by the State?
The Union Public Service Commission recruits some of the country’s top brass through a complex and rigorous method. But, it should also ensure that this recruitment is a fair and just process that is inclusive of candidates from all lingual and disciplinary background. The State must learn to be sensible and understanding in order to attend to sensitive situations such as these. The Government has no cause to be afraid of candle light marches, unless it is being autocratic.