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UPSC exams and language controversy

Sunday March 17, 2013 10:33:21 AM, Syed Ali Mujtaba,

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Even as the March 5 notification of the UPSC Civil Services Main examination is put on hold due to pressure lobby within the Parliament, the latest revision of the pattern of examination leaves ample scope of discussion and debate among the intelligentsia in the country.

The new pattern of the UPSC Civil Services examination was first introduced in 2011 with the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) in the preliminary examination. Now in 2013, anew pattern is introduced in the Main examination that has triggered a heated debate in the country particularly from the regional satraps.

First debate is on the language controversy that revolves around Hindi verses other linguistic groups in India. The second on is on rural urban divide being promoted by the UPSC through its new pattern of the Civil Services examination.

The voices from non Hindi linguistic group have become shriek, calling the coveted examination favoring the Hindi medium candidates while discriminating the aspirants from the regional languages.

There is equally a sharp criticism about the new pattern of examination alleging that it tries to create an unhealthy and unequal competition among rural and urban candidates.

UPSC, in 2011 had introduced the CSAT pattern in the Prelim examination involving reasoning and mental ability test requiring speed and accuracy.

The questions were printed in Hindi and English and were seen as advantageous to Hindi medium students because they can grasp the question reading in their mother tongue and answer them faster than the other linguistic group who can only follow through English script.

In 2013 with its March 5 notification, UPSC has done a pattern change for the Main examination, doing away with language paper of qualifying nature, besides brining in few other changes.

Earlier, students had to qualify in English and regional language paper in the main examination whose marks were not counted but passing them was mandatory.

As per the new pattern, the candidates will no longer have to qualify in regional language paper, but this is seen as giving advantage to urban youth educated in English medium. According to reports, , even after qualifying the Prelims, 5-9 per cent candidates flunk in regional language paper while writing the Mains exam.

Further changes UPSC has brought in the Main examination 2013 is that if a candidate has done his education through a regional language medium at the degree level is only eligible to write the Mains examination in that language. A minimum of 25 candidates is required to write the Main exam in a given regional language.

In addition, according to new Civil Services pattern, a candidate cannot choose a regional language as ‘Optional Paper,’ unless having a graduation degree in a particular regional language or have studied it as an optional subject.

The new UPSC norms have created a furor among the linguistic groups in India. Agitations have already begun in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

The arguments against the new UPSC pattern is, many candidates may be deprived of writing the exams in a regional language even being more comfortable in that language because they have not done their studies through the regional language medium.

The UPSC mandatory a quota of 25 candidates writing the Mains exam in a regional language is also being flayed. It’s argued that the necessary numbers may not be obtained, in that case depriving the students who aspire to write the exam in regional language.

Similarly, baring choosing language as ‘optional paper’ may deprive many candidates who may like to opt for it even though they may not have studied that language at the graduation level.

The language issue is a sensitive matter and there are differences of opinion. Before going further, one has to understand the outlook of the central government services like UPSC Civil Services examination where two languages formula works, one Hindi, the national language, and English the link language.

Civil Services being a central government services with an all India character, it would be really difficult for the UPSC to cater to the demands in 22 regional languages mentioned in the 8th Schedule of the Indian constitution.

So when it comes to provide a level playing field for all languages in the country, it is true that the Hindi medium candidates have definite advantage in writing the UPSC Civil Services examination.

So the option before the UPSC is to print question papers in all the 22 regional languages and allow it to be answered in the 22 languages.

Setting it aside on the grounds of being unwieldy may not solve the problem of regional aspirants and therefore maybe be considered as an option to create a level playing field.

Now coming to the scrapping of the regional language in the Civil Services Main examination, is UPSC discriminatory?

This is not necessarily so, because the regional language paper was only of qualifying nature and its marks were never counted in the main examination.

In any case a candidate after qualifying the civil services is posted in different sate carder and has to clear the exam in the state language carder. So doing away with language paper have neither made positive nor negative impact on the Civil Service examination.

The other big objection is on UPSC’s restrictions on writing the Main exam in regional language and on choosing language as an ‘optional paper’.

The allegation is that UPSC through its new pattern of examination has opened the slush gate to urban aspirants who have studied in Hindi or English medium. It’s argued that such norm has come as a “big blow” to rural aspirants opting to write the exam in regional languages and this will certainly tell on the number of in takes from rural background.

Keeping emotions apart, the new pattern of the civil services exam is not discriminating the regional language candidates. They are allowed to write the exam in regional language provided they have studied in that language medium.

However, the quota of 25 could be convenient for administrative reason, but its bit too harsh for the regional language candidates and can be considered by the UPSC for revision.

With regard to taking regional language paper as the ‘optional paper’, UPSC has done right thing in restricting it to only those students who have studied the language paper in their undergraduate level. It was found that many candidates with science and other professional degrees were taking a regional language as an optional paper and qualifying the UPSC Civil Services examination.

At the same time UPSC has tried to create a level playing field between rural and urban divide increasing the weightage of the general studies paper. This move has to be seen more realistically to bridge the gap between social sciences students and other streams, with former representing the rural and later the urban divide.

The subject specialist mostly in commerce, pure sciences and technical stream may now find it difficult to cope up the 4 papers of general studies, while the students with social sciences and humanities may have an advantage. This may help the candidates from the rural background who may have been bereft with technical degrees due to their socio- economic background.

The UPSC has done a right thing by retaining English as a paper in the mains examination and its marks being counted because the proficiency in the link language is essential in all such all India services. At the same time it has done no harm to regional aspirants by scrapping the language paper of qualifying nature, even though some urban aspirants may find this to be advantageous.

In the end, it could be recommended that the UPSC may consider printing the question papers in all the 22 languages. It may also allow a candidate to write the main examination in the language of his/ her choice. The quota of 25 should be withdrawn and allow the personality test to be held in the preferred language of the candidate.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at




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