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Millennium Post

Let language unite and not divide us

The Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the gateway to it, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination, are pretty much the heart and the vascular system of the nation. Naturally, given its origin in the colonial Imperial Civil Service, there is a residual Anglophilia and prestige associated with it.

However, over the decades, the bulk of Indian babudom has been systematically decolonised, with IAS officers joining the battalion from remotest corners of the country, and the barriers – linguistic, educational, economic and otherwise – to it, have been brought down to a large extent. Yet, the top layers of bureaucracy in this country happen to have their origins, more often than not, in the traditionally privileged, upper class, upper caste, mostly Hindu, English-speaking lot, which have less trouble dealing with the periodic tinkering and tweaking of the UPSC exam pattern.

In the case of the current furore, what used to be the optional paper in the preliminary test, has been replaced with the civil services aptitude test (C-SAT) that questions the aspirants on skills such as logic and comprehension, reasoning, basic, school-level English language and mathematical proficiency. While the protesters, coming mostly from Hindi belt, assert how discriminatory the new system happens to be for those preferring a regional language over English (or even Hindi, as per the requirements until 2011), and while it is important to maintain a linguistic parity and not allow exploitation (intentional or unwarranted) along the axes of language, is the scrapping of the limited number of questions in English language really the right solution?

It must not be forgotten that IAS is a national-level bureaucratic service and UPSC is a pan-India examination, not a state-level test. Inasmuch as English still remains the link language and given the public executives are routinely required to have interpersonal and intersubjective exchanges with fellow babus, policymakers, think-tank members, politicians and representatives of international organisations, minimum proficiency in English is not only a necessity, it is perhaps integral to the idea of a bureaucratic circulatory system.

Instead of upping their ante and rising to the occasion, IAS aspirants from heartlands are burning buses and creating ruckus on the street screaming discrimination, all the while not even reflecting once on what they are struggling for. In the same vein, under no circumstances can a university-level education in humanities challenge the aspirants’ capability in school-level logic and comprehension. If such a threat is indeed being perceived, that is a scathing indictment of what has been going on in the name of school and university education in various parts of the country. While plurality in mediums of instruction is a happy condition of education in India, it must not become a handicap for future bureaucrats.
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