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Understanding The Protests Against UPSC: Why Are Aspirants Being Beaten Up For Demanding Equality?

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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.

Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma
Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

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.

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  1. Manaved Nambiar

    A well written article. Nonetheless, I do not agree with what you have said. I fear your article focuses too much on vilifying English, rather than presenting a fair view of things. What is happening is that the people being examined are trying to set the bar for qualification, which is very absurd. The civil services are India’s elite. They are and always will be expected to be conversant in English, a language which is global in nature. Would you expect a person who doesn’t speak English to represent our country on the Global Platform? Would you want the Civil Services of India to bow down to mediocrity? I think not. Anyway, I’ll have you know that vernacular languages are among the most scoring in the exams.
    All I’m saying is, if the civil services are the country’s elite, then it is not only expected but necessary that they have a firm grasp on the English Language. Not because i’m a Shakespearean Snob, but because of convenience.

    1. Anusha Sundar

      Hi Manaved,
      Thanks a lot!
      Like you, I understand the importance of English in a highly globalized world. However, what I was driving at is the difficult standards that the prelim’s English section is set to. It is impossible for students from rural backgrounds and government schooling to be able to answer these questions. When the state fails in providing a level playing field, it cannot arbitrarily expect them to have a grasp over something as technical as a language. The Government could always train the officials once they have been selected in Communicative English. But, it doesn’t. Thereby lies its failure.
      Most of the officials form the backbone of day to day administrations for which the vernacular works fittingly. And yes, It is essential for IFS officers to have a command over the language but these officers form a miniscule part of the recruits. It would be an imbalance to equate the need for IFS officers to know English language and the compulsion to answer questions based on the English language in the prelims.

    2. ravi kumar

      To represent views on global platform our IFS officers are trained in that language like french , mandarin etc. and regarding what you said that vernacular language are among most scoring because one can express their views better in that language rather than a language which is forced on him. The united nation had also directed guidelines that it is most efficient to teach students in native language. are expecting a rural indian to be fluent in english when he is surrounded by mostly illiterate population.
      according to 2001 census only around 2.25 lakh indians are fluent in english. which is 1/4 of candidates applied for civil service exam.

  2. Save CSAT

    Why have you written this article in English ?
    Why Don’t you write this in Hindi and suitably translate it in remaining 18 regional languages ?

  3. Divya Kapoor

    Before the “Chai wala” became a PM or a “CM” he worked and worked very hard for the post.
    Please do not mix the issues for finding similarity or just to have an analogy.
    I am baffled, horrified at the thought that people, who are pelting stones at policemen, damaging the public property, causing disruption will be the part of the top most exam of India. Only God knows what will happen if they get selected.

    I want to put my thoughts on this issue. I don’t want anyone to conveniently misinterpreting my thoughts to say that I am against Hindi medium/ Humanities students. Because I AM NOT.

    Firstly, India is rapidly growing globalizing nation. It needs its best minds in the civil services. Every examination has only one criteria, namely to pick the best. In this case , CSAT exam is meant to test logical reasoning, problem solving skills, analytical abilities, basic numeracy and English skills of 10th class levels. If someone cannot solve 10th class problem, they certainly should not find a place in India’s civil services at all.

    Secondly, English is taught as a secondary language in all Hindi medium schools. So there’s the no question of bias here. If any problems here, the probe should be on what exactly is being taught in schools that the students today are revolting and not on the exam pattern.

    Thirdly, the English to Hindi translation problem is the only genuine problem in this mess.This problem can be resolved by getting an actual person for the translations rather than internet.

    With the growing number of aspirants every year for civil services, one exam is required for filtering the students out.( I am not saying here to filter Hindi medium students)
    The Hindi medium/ humanities people instead of studying, making efforts for improving themselves are demanding for simplifying the exams. That’s laughable.

    People selected in the UPSC exams, as a part of their job are required to read balance sheets of companies, analyse large amounts of data while designing policy interventions etc. All this require an analytical and logical mind, which needs to be tested and is being tested in the CSAT exam.

    The “dharna” projects that these people think that if you are not fit for the exam the answer to the problem is not studying or making yourself better , the answer is to make the exam your way. And the best way to do this is to sit on “dharna/anshan” the new culture promoted and practiced by Mr. Kejriwal.

  4. Shirish Tiwari

    A very apt article deeply raised the issues of students protesting all over India. But all we need is to understand the complexity of issue. There is an obvious inclination towards the technical side cornering the students who come from the villages or belong to various other regional languages.
    I hope people especially students from all backgrounds would take interest and raise this issue.

  5. Gomathi

    A well written article and I don’t think the article vilifies English. English is no doubt a fine language and with its help, we from different parts of the country communicate today. But, it is certainly not the only saviour language. Haven’t we had excellent politicians and administrators in the past who could not speak a word of English?
    Certainly there should be other ways to filter out candidates.

  6. Surya

    The Questions asked in the CAST are of Xth Class Standard, When we are talking about the Top 500 of India, is it wrong to expect that they will be well versed with the English comprehension of class X. How can they lead the entire district when they can not posses the basic reasoning, English and analytical skills. I hope that all the people who are protesting now have already cleared their compulsory English papers in their Xth and XII standards, When they don’t have problems at that time, why is it that they got problems with English now. I am a candidate studied in regional language and i don’t find any difficulty in the English paper. If a person is brought up in karnakata, when he was selected for IAS, what he is going to speak if he is posted in UP, in the same way if a person from UP posted in Tamilnadu what he is going to speak. Then may be these people fight for eliminating the regional launguages and bring up slogans like “one india…one launguage (Hindi)”. when you are in the position of secretary of a state, you can not ask all the data you needed in hindi while framing the policy documents. Instead of fighting for eliminating the CAST, i suggest the protestors to fight for improving the standards of teaching of english in school level and to include the syllabus to improve the children’s reasoning and analytical abilities.


    I will make it short ,I do not agree with you, I would like to give an example ,say I do not like calculus in Maths so just because I do not like calculus in Mathematics it should be scrapped is that a fair demand ?? Secondly, civil services exams are to recruit the great minds who can run the country , who has a knowledge of every field be it maths, science, history etc. not to appease students. If they do not have these basic requirements they better go somewhere else , write some other exams, there are plenty of exams.

  8. Suraj Mandal

    यह ठीक नहीं –
    आज पीएमओ में राज्य मंत्री जितेंद्र सिंह ने यूपीएससी C-SAT पर लोकसभा में जो बयान दिए हैं वह पूरी तरह नौकरशाहों द्वारा रटे-रटाये अदाज़ में काँग्रेसी तर्ज़ पर है जिससे स्पष्ट है की आंदोलनकारियों के साथ धोखा हुआ है।
    मंत्री जी ने उन माँगो को माना है जिसकी माँग की ही नहीं गई थी। माँग यह थी की C-SAT हटाया जाए और परीक्षा की तिथि बढ़ाई जाए।
    जबकि कार्मिक राज्‍य मंत्री जितेंद्र सिंह ने आज लोकसभा में कहा कि CSAT हटाने पर अभी कोई फैसला नहीं लिया जाएगा। हालांकि उन्‍होंने हिंदी के छात्रों को आंशिक राहत देते हुए कहा कि मेरिट में अंग्रेजी के अंक नहीं जोड़े जाएंगे। सदन में जितेंद्र सिंह ने कहा कि 2011 के छात्रों को एक और मौका मिलना चाहिए। उन्‍होंने कहा कि अंग्रेजी के अंक जोड़ने का कोई औचित्‍य ही नहीं है।
    हालाँकि गृह मंत्री राजनाथ सिंह के मुताबिक नेपाल से लौटकर प्रधानमंत्री नरेंद्र मोदी कैबिनेट से इस मुद्दे पर बात करेंगे जिसके बाद ही इस पर सरकार का फैसला सार्वजनिक होगा। फिर यह जल्दी क्यों ?
    यह सर्विदित है की जितेंद्र सिंह पूरे मामले को समझ नहीं रहे थे अन्यथा समझना नहीं चाहते हैं क्योंकि उनके कुछ नजदीकी लोग यह परीक्षा दे रहें हैं और उनके ख़यालात आंदोलनकारियों से भिन्न है।

  9. Suraj Mandal

    CSAT: Comprises of some sections namely General Comprehension, Basic Numeracy, Data Interpretation Data Sufficiency, Mental Ability, Reasoning, Decision Making, English Comprehension etc…

    General Comprehensions: play vital role… and take much more time… as UPSC is unable to provide perfect translations of the comprehensions originally written in English, and because of this students of other Indian Languages are at disadvantageous position… If UPSC is honest to its own endeavor then should be asked to set COMPREHENSION in HINDI and then translate it in English…

    Basic Numeracy, Data Interpretation,Data Sufficiency, Mental Ability, Reasoning: No Problems… Only thing that Aspirants from Science/ Engineering and Management/ Commerce backgrounds are at advantageous position…

    Decision Making : No Problems..

    But again big Question??? Where is the Civil Services Aptitude then???

    What do they want to test???

    Whether students are from Rural Areas or from Urban Areas???

    Still I am of firm belief that there should be no CSAT… but If you want to test any body’s aptitude then test for their Emotional intelligence, Social Quotient, Integrity level, Ethicality, Nationalistic Aptitude,….etc and these can be tested through mains papers, through Interview and through Psychological Analysis…

  10. Aman

    It is completely illogical protest and most stupid article by author…First thing first Never can a person appearing for the exams demand to the examiner the way the exam should be…..The people who frame the exams are not stupids they are highly qualified personels who have assessed what India needs at present ….

    Secondly comparison Humanities vs Engineering…Going by the data of selection is completely stupid….what is the surety that the people appearing in these papaers have prepared well…CSAT has 2 papers 200 marks each paper 1 is General studies and second is apptitude test with general english..while the pattern of paper I has 4 out 7 subjects pertaining to humanities and 3 subjects are Science …Current affairs and Enviournment and bio diversity…And second paper is logical reasoning apptitude …for reasoning so where is the baisenedness towards engineering the author first need to go through the question paper and then tell whether it requires a change …..simple questions like relationships between people…Data interpretation …Comparisons and very few formulae based questions of speed distance time studied by every onr in class 10…and to tell u it has been much better and simpler than what it was in previous format…

    Lastly for ur Main exam graphs do you know when the main exam got changed it is in the year 2013 ..otherwise in 2011 and 2012 it was same as previous year…so then where is the challenge

    You know why this people are protesting coz it has actually impacted the coaching buisness in the states like UP and Bihar and others…whereby in the previous format the coaching institutes just had to distribute notes and people used to mug up to get into the thresholds and just get passed out …without much of true brain efforts…

    I agree that genuine issues of translations in CSAT paper 2 must be sorted ..but other than that it is all bull shit..

    And how can an exam be challenged on grounds of baisedness where
    – It provides equal field by allowing people graduating from any background
    -where you are allowed to write your main exams in ur preferred language
    -where you are allowed to give interviews in your prefered language

    how is it baised then….result is an outcome of how well u have understood and delivered … For Engineers and english speaking people it is not that they give the exam without preparing or preparing less they also have to study hard and show there brilliance …..Serious candidates take toughness of the exam as a challenge and strive hard .. otherwise it is like same kahawat Naach naa Jaane angan teda..and remeber the slection is still going to be 500 or 700 hundred out of 4 lacs …so even if you change patterns hardly think it will make any diffrence unless the contenders are serious speak to those 13% who have got selected theu will tell you thag is the exam really tough or not ..

    1. Sweta

      I think the points you’ve raised are very valid, Aman. Especially since the marks in English were removed from consideration (I feel wrongly) on the same day that the article was published. English is the only non-regional language somewhat understood in the southern states and in the north-eastern states. If you want to work for the central government (which means you can be posted anywhere) you should have the language skills needed to work everywhere. Otherwise, you should opt for qualifying for local government service only.
      “Problem-solving, logical and analytical ability, reasoning and communication skills” are not unreasonable attributes to demand of our civil servants, and do not preclude Humanities students (like the author) from appearing and succeeding in the CSAT II. She should remember that this is not just another exam that students have to pass. It is a a test to see if you are FIT to become a part of the government help in the running of the country. If you cannot make sensible, well-reasoned decisions on the spot, this is NOT the job for you.

  11. Amit

    You complete the graduation at the age of 20 and after that you have 12 yrs to prepare for UPSC. I think 12 yrs are more than enough for anyone to learn English. Also why only humanities students are shouting so much even engineering student face the problem with CSAT paper they shout on the streets. there is no single test which can be used to gauge the performance so thats why 2 set of papers are kept. Also in mains everyone can select their own language to answer so there dont comes a question of english so the above graph of mains dont make any sense.

  12. Gaurav Pingale

    Your work is appreciable. It will be good if you will write on General Knowledge topics of UPSC exam.

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