From someone who has dreamt of being a collector since he was eight to another who works as a guard to fund his coaching — they are some of the faces at the centre of the UPSC protests. ADITI VATSA meets them to find out why they are angry
KESHAV N SINGH, 25
Detained near India Gate
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From: Jehanabad, Bihar. Now stays in a room in Gopalpur village near Mukherjee Nagar, paying a monthly rent of Rs 2,000.
Family: His parents used to work as farm labourers, now too old to work. He has six elder sisters.
Education: History graduate from Magadh University, Bodh Gaya. Studying for a postgraduate degree in history from Nalanda Open University.
Medium of Education: Hindi
Coaching: A coaching centre in Mukherjee Nagar waived off his fee for a general studies course.
Earlier UPSC attempts: Twice — 2012 and 2013.
Why UPSC? Singh, a self-proclaimed environmental activist, says a chance meeting with a minister in the Nitish Kumar government convinced him to take up the civil services exam. “I would run from one government office to the other to raise environmental issues. I once met the agriculture minister who said that instead of asking others to act on environmental issues, I should join the UPSC and act myself,” Singh says.
His story: In 2012, Singh borrowed Rs 2,000 from his father and headed for Delhi. “There was no way my father could have given me any more money. I assured my parents I would find a way to sustain myself once I reach Delhi,” he says. In Mukherjee Nagar, besides preparing for his exams, he distributes pamphlets of coaching institutes. “I get Rs 300 a day for distributing pamphlets. I also worked as a night guard in Indira Vihar,” he says.
SUHAS GOWDA, 28
Held last week at Parliament Street police station
From: Bangalore. Now lives in Mukherjee Nagar, north Delhi.
Family: His father is a chartered accountant with the Archaeological Survey of India and his mother is a homemaker. His sister is a software professional.
Education: B.Tech from Visvesvaraya Technological University, Bangalore. Masters in International Business (Grande École, France). He also has a B.Com degree through distance learning.
Coaching: Sri Ram IAS Academy in Rajendra Nagar, Delhi. Paid Rs 1 lakh for an eight-month-long course in general studies.
Earlier UPSC attempts: “Once, last year. I missed the preliminary cut-off marks by 8-9 marks.”
Why UPSC? “After my engineering degree, I went to study in France hoping to earn a lot of money, dreaming of owning a slew of luxury cars. However, my subsequent visits to India made me realise the futility of my dreams. I then decided to become a civil servant.”
His story: Delhi is the “Mecca of all civil service aspirants”, he says, when asked about his move to the Capital a few months ago. With an English-medium background, Gowda is an unlikely protester. “I am not here for myself,” he says. “The CSAT paper is child’s play for anyone who has an engineering degree. But there are many people who are more knowledgeable than many of us but can’t make the cut because they don’t belong to a certain background. My friend is a university topper in Kannada literature but because he does not know English, he has not been able to qualify in the examination.”
RUBY KHAN, 29
Detained by the police at India Gate when trying to take out a candlelight march with others
From: Campirganj village, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. She now stays alone in a room in Dhaka village in Mukherjee Nagar, paying Rs 6,500 a month.
Family: Khan’s parents run a small shop in their village. She is their only child.
Education: Masters in political science from Gorakhpur University.
Medium of Education: Hindi
Coaching: Paid Rs 35,000 for a year-long course in general studies at Dhyeya IAS Coaching Services. Also paid Rs 44,000 for a course in Hindi and political science at the same institute.
Earlier UPSC attempts: Twice — in 2012 and 2013 — but could not qualify for the Mains.
Why UPSC? “We rarely had electricity at home when we were growing up. We used to study by the light of a lantern. The village does not have proper roads. I want to change this situation,” she says.
Her Story: When she told her family about her decision to go to Delhi to study, her father had to sell their house to arrange the money and the family moved in with their relatives. Besides studying, Khan now takes up sewing assignments. “I make about Rs 500 whenever I stitch something and manage to send some money home,” she says.
SATISH KUMAR, 29
Detained near India Gate while trying to hold a candlelight march
From: Gaya, Bihar. Now lives in a one-room accommodation in Gandhi Vihar, paying a monthly rent of Rs 5,000.
Family: His father, a member of the village panchayat, is the sole earning member in the family of five.
Education: Postgraduate in philosophy from Kurukshetra University and in geography from Nalanda Open University. He also has a B.Ed degree from Delhi University.
Medium of education: Hindi
Coaching: Paid Rs 60,000 for courses in philosophy and geography at Patanjali coaching centre in Mukherjee Nagar.
Earlier UPSC attempts: Three. He could not go beyond the Prelims.
Why UPSC? “When I was 8 years old, I accompanied my father to a mahapanchayat. There, a tough-looking man was scolding the panchayat heads. I asked my father who the man was. He told me he was the Collector. I told my dad that I wanted to be a Collector when I grew up,” says Kumar.
His story: Fifteen years after the mahapanchayat incident, Kumar reached Delhi. Since 2008, he has taken the UPSC examination thrice without any luck. “It is not just the issue of poor translation of questions from English to Hindi but the entire curriculum of the exam. It gives undue emphasis to logical reasoning and mathematical ability and is unfair to a humanities student like me,” he says.
BALKESH CHOWDHARY, 26
Escaped arrest on several occasions when she was a part of protests
From: Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. Now lives in Mukherjee Nagar, Delhi. Pays Rs 7,000 for a room.
Family: They are all farmers. None is literate.
Education: MSc in chemistry from Rajasthan University, Jaipur.
Medium of education: Hindi
Coaching: G S Academy, Mukherjee Nagar. Paid Rs 35,000 for a general studies course.
Earlier UPSC attempts: Twice — in 2012 and 2013. She could not clear the Prelims.
Why UPSC? While she was working as a lecturer, a colleague suggested that she should take the civil services examination and she came to Delhi. She thinks that this is a way of “giving back to society”.
Her story: Chowdhary had to struggle every year to complete her education. “I would not eat at home for days so that my parents would allow me to go to school and then college. They are conservative and did not want me to study. They wanted me to get married as soon as I turned 18. I have two younger brothers and both are married,” she says. Since her family did not support her, Chowdhary began giving private tuitions to students. Later, she worked as a lecturer at a college in Jhunjhunu. She feels the CSAT format “discriminates” against her. “Till Class XII, I did not know the difference between ‘this’ and ‘that’. There is no way I can become a civil servant if the UPSC exam format is not changed. The government discriminates against us — only 5 per cent of the successful candidates are from non-English medium backgrounds,” she says.
SURENDRA P GUPTA, 30
Detained on July 27 near
From: Hussainganj village, Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh. Now stays in Wazirabad, Delhi. Shares a room with another UPSC aspirant — each pay Rs 6,000 a month.
Family: His father, a farmer, passed away in 2007.
Education: Masters in public administration, Lucknow University
Medium of education: Hindi
Earlier UPSC attempts: He cleared the civil services preliminary examination twice — in 2007 and 2009. He could not clear the Mains.
Why UPSC? “I was not happy with my job. So, I decided to take the civil services examination,” he says.
His story: After his father’s death, Gupta was forced to take up a clerical job at Allahabad Bank and State Bank of India in Allahabad, which he quit for UPSC. “I have been a Hindi-medium student, but have a fair knowledge of English. I noticed that when I was attempting the CSAT paper in Hindi, my score dipped. This is not just true for me but for many other applicants,” Gupta says. With just two attempts left, Gupta shifted to Delhi a month ago. “My friends were in Delhi preparing for UPSC. So, I thought that I should give my last two attempts my best shot and rushed to Delhi ,” he says.
Exam, the format
Entry into India’s civil services happens through an annual screening process conducted by the Union Public Services Commission. The process includes three phases: Preliminaries, Mains and an interview.
Till 2011, the preliminary examination had two papers: one on general studies carrying 150 marks and another on an optional subject carrying 300 marks. In the revised format, the number of papers at the preliminary level are still two, but applicants can no longer choose subjects. Both papers are of 200 marks each.
The first Prelims paper tests students on their knowledge of current events, history, politics and governance, economics, environment and general science. The second paper is CSAT or the Civil Services Aptitude Test (though UPSC doesn’t use the term) and has questions on communication skills, logical reasoning and analytical ability, decision-making and problem-solving, general mental ability, basic numeracy (Class X level), data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency, etc. of Class X level), English language comprehension skills (Class X level). The last section of this paper has questions to test the English comprehension skills (Class X level). Both papers have multiple choice, objective-type questions.
At the second level, the Mains, there are two qualifying papers — one in any Indian language among those included in the Eighth Schedule, the second on English. Apart from the qualifying papers, there are seven papers, each carrying 250 marks. Four papers are
on general studies, two are on an optional subject and one essay paper.
The interview carries 275 marks.
Why are students protesting?
In 2011, UPSC introduced the CSAT as part of the preliminary exam. The CSAT paper quizzes students on logical reasoning, communication skills, problem-solving, decision-making, data interpretation and English language comprehension skills. This is where most protesters have a problem. They say it discriminates against students from regional backgrounds or with no professional degrees.
Students also allege that the Hindi translation of comprehension passages in CSAT is poorly done. They say the weightage given to CSAT questions is more than for the general studies ones.
Demands of protesters
They want the civil services examination, scheduled for August 24, to be postponed. They want CSAT to be scrapped or made optional or turned into a qualifying paper. They also demand that the applicants should not be quizzed on their English language skills at any level in the screening process, saying it discriminates against students from regional backgrounds. Protesting applicants say UPSC can provide an English proficiency course to those who qualify in the examination and interview.
In a recent communication to the Department of Personnel and Training, the UPSC opposed any move to either postpone or cancel the Prelims on August 24. The DoPT had asked about the possibility of the CSAT paper being scrapped or its marks not being tabulated at all during evaluation. The UPSC said a postponement of the exam was difficult given the number of students enrolled to write it, and also warned against any tinkering with CSAT at this time because of the possibility of inviting litigation.