A GENUINE GRIEVANCE
Language cannot determine IAS aspirants’ fate
The arson and rioting which aspirants of the Indian Administrative Service have indulged in on the streets of Delhi in protest against the Civil Service Aptitude Test and the reported high-handed conduct of Delhi Police are both unfortunate. But while the law and order machinery must do its job with sensitivity and the agitating members should take care not to let violence creep into their movement, the issue that the protesters have raised has merit. It is good that the Union Government has assured Parliament and the students that the concerns will be addressed and that the students will face no injustice. The Government has constituted a panel to study the matter, and the panel will submit its report soon. At the core of the controversy is the CSAT, which, agitationists and several experts believe, is heavily loaded in favour of students who have proficiency in the English language; this puts the others in a disadvantaged position. The Congress-led UPA Government had introduced the aptitude test in English in the preliminary examination in 2010 to evaluate a candidate’s ‘working knowledge’ of English. Reservations had been expressed then and they have remained since that time. However, the issue has boiled over now because aspirants decided to up the ante with the issuance of admit cards for the examination even as the Centre is studying ways to resolve the crisis. The controversy, therefore, is, like many others, a left-over of the Congress days, and the Narendra Modi Government must tackle it to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
There are two aspects to the grievance at hand. The first is that undue weightage in terms of marks has been given to the CSAT. The second is that it makes no sense for India to continue with the British legacy of an over-emphasis on proficiency in English in the civil services as a means to create an ‘exclusive’ club of officers who are removed from the daily existence of ordinary citizens. The first point is well taken, because language cannot become a determining factor in the selection of candidates — other aspects of merit must be given more attention. Language is no determinant of skill either. But it is the second factor that deserves deep attention as it concerns the very philosophy which forms the crux of the civil services. Civil servants, at least those who opt for the IAS, have to directly engage with the people of the country — and a vast majority does not either speak or understand the language. What use would a high level of proficiency in English be to such officers? Hindi or other Indian languages play a greater and more enabling role in administration on the ground. Therefore, it does not appear wise for the examiners of the civil services entrance test to heavily tilt towards English in the selection of candidates. This does not mean that English must be given the short shrift; the agitationists are not demanding it either, as the language has its use, especially for aspirants who wish to join the Indian Foreign Service stream. The simple point is: No test must discriminate on the basis of language.
Unfortunately, the issue is being exploited by language chauvinists who seek to butter their political bread. They have been adding fuel to fire, rather than attempting to douse the flames of protest. Politics must not be played.