A test for brown sahibs

In 2014, of the 1,122 new recruits for the civil service, only 53 came from those who wrote papers in Indian languages

Written by Tavleen Singh | Updated: July 27, 2014 12:28 am
The students objecting to the CSAT aptitude test are from this new breed of middle-class, aspirational Indians who believe they have a right to participate in governing India.  The students objecting to the CSAT aptitude test are from this new breed of middle-class, aspirational Indians who believe they have a right to participate in governing India.

In 2014, of the 1,122 new recruits for the civil service, only 53 came from those who wrote papers in Indian languages.

It is a shame that it had to come to violence before attention focused on students protesting for days in Delhi against unfairness in the civil service exam. There is unfairness and unfairness of a stupid kind, which makes it worse. This is not just because the aptitude test appears to eliminate students writing tests in Indian languages, but because it could be eliminating good candidates and enlisting ‘educated’ idiots. If you want proof, please remember that Indian bureaucrats are world famous for being obdurate, arrogant and obsolete. And it is often the children of bureaucrats of this genre who today take the civil service examinations in English, so they start with an unfair advantage.

In 2014, of the 1,122 new recruits for the civil service, only 53 came from those who wrote papers in Indian languages, and this is worrying. But a linguistic disadvantage is not the only problem. After Thursday night’s clashes between the police and protesting students in Delhi, I decided to do a little research. I Googled the CSAT syllabus and some question papers.

As I ploughed my way through long, banal passages about ‘creative society’ and ‘inclusive governance’, I realised that, even if translated into Indian languages, the questions would mystify anyone who did not come from St Stephen’s College. No offence to this fine institution, but as I read through the question papers, I visualised the most pompous bores of my acquaintance who always remind me that they went to ‘Stephen’s’. Usually they speak no Indian language (except to their servants) and have no understanding of the hopes and aspirations of the sort of people who voted to bring Narendra Modi to 7, Race Course Road. The students objecting to the CSAT aptitude test are from this new breed of middle-class, aspirational Indians who believe they have a right to participate in governing India.

They are probably intelligent, talented young men and women who would easily be able to answer the CSAT questions if they were asked more intelligibly. Example: Why are Indian forests and rivers ruined? ‘Short-term increases in some ecosystem goods and services have come at the cost of the long-term degradation of others’. If you think that is a convoluted bit of writing, I recommend that you download some CSAT papers and read them. Every passage is written in this kind of long-winded prose.

You may also discover that the reason why India counts among the worst governed countries in the world is because people who become top officials, police officers and tax inspectors are usually the wrong kind. The right kind do not stand a chance of getting in even if they know India’s problems and complexities well. This is because the tests are all wrong. Speaking for myself, I would give up plans for government service if I were to sit for a CSAT question paper. They appear to have been written by brown sahibs for the progeny of brown sahibs and I would refuse on principle.

Ironically, one of the passages I came across was about ‘inclusive growth’. I am not going to bore you by quoting from it, but suffice it to say that it seemed to be written by someone who was oblivious of what the word inclusive should mean. If anything is guaranteed to enlist brown sahibs and exclude other capable Indians from becoming civil servants, it is the CSAT test. So if the Prime Minister truly wants to bring about parivartan and vikas, he is going to need to do more than appoint a three-member committee to examine the grievances of the protesting students.

The defining characteristic of the recent general election was the anger of ordinary voters against bad governance. Everywhere I went, the biggest complaints were about how basic public services did not work. This was blamed on corruption, but reality is more complicated and at the root of the problem is the kind of person who comes into government service.

The pretentious bores of yesteryear are being replaced by officials who are no longer brown sahibs, but who are trying to become brown sahibs. This is because of the nature of the examinations they take to enter government service. When protesting students tell reporters that CSAT excludes students from rural India from standing a chance, they are right. The CSAT syllabus has ‘English comprehension skills’ as one of its requirements, so even the Prime Minister would probably fail.

Speaking of which, please Prime Minister speak in Hindi when you go to the United States, it makes Indians proud. And, it signals to the vast majority of Indians who speak no English that you represent their hopes and aspirations. Do not let some evil bureaucrat misguide you on this. He may only be doing it because he himself speaks no Indian language.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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  1. A
    aks
    Jul 27, 2014 at 7:22 am
    Well written. Me Modi would have wasted his mandate if he does not shake up the system, the status quo.
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    BigB
    Jul 27, 2014 at 9:29 am
    I think we should not have a babu system atall. When I went from a top school to a 2nd ranked school in US, I met 2 people who had made the mistake of not ping JEE in their twelfth, but had recovered by going through the tough route of GATE and IISC and making it there. We should stop this stupidity of ping one exam and become all set in life. Our beurocrats should prove themselves in real life and chose to become a babu. Like, if you don't have 5 years of working experience, you don't get into some management school.
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    manohar sharma
    Jul 28, 2014 at 3:20 am
    Dear Tavleen please do not apologise when you talk of st Stephen. The graduates from this elitist college are most arrogant from their perceived superiority
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    Arvind Srivastava
    Jul 30, 2014 at 7:11 am
    Lot of students want these Babu jobs to earn by corrupt way. Intelligent people who get selected in these can find double ries in corporate world ( without power ) but not with unaccounted money with minimum work and responsibilities
    Reply
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    A.Murali Krishna
    Jul 27, 2014 at 5:31 am
    It is true that in most of the compeive examinations, undue importance is given to English. When it comes to government services, the emphasis should be to Indian languages and comprehension exercise also can be in vernacular language. Our DD programs are very boring because station directors posted do not know native language. Because of excessive thrust on English, "Bharath" has lost synchronism (Bhava, Raga and Thala) in governance. Immediate action is requested from PM Modi
    Reply
  6. S
    Sachin Patil
    Jul 27, 2014 at 4:51 am
    Madam, you r absolutely right. I'd cleared CSAT and even went for interview(didn't made into final list). Still I think this CSAT is biased towards rural guys. I've moral right to say so bcoz I lives in village which is 40 km away from Kolhapur which don't have even kachchi gram sadak under your much hyped Pradhanmantri Gram Sadak Yojna.
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    goldy
    Aug 23, 2014 at 10:34 am
    first came the white british east india company sahibs after independence came the fair skinned nehru/hi congress sahibs today we have the brown and black sahibsteresting article by the old school reporter tavleen singh.
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    Gopal
    Jul 28, 2014 at 1:29 am
    Brilliant article!!! As I have said earlier we have been living in a colonial rule since independence. We need independence from this colonial rule by Brown Sahibs. We must change the exam system and may be consider getting rid of the present exam system alltogether. I don't think there is another country that has similar exams. They don't have IPS officers without any active police experience.
    Reply
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