By: Alok Ra
Predictably, the politicians have won — the UPSC has backed down on the matter of the minimal English requirement for the prelims, the CSAT. Politicians, after all, presume to rule the country with no minimum qualifications at all — evidently, even a criminal record is merely desirable, not compulsory. Indeed, from the point of view of popular (and populist) politicians, the best examination is the one in which everyone makes it. But, of course, the whole point of an examination is to set up gates and filters of different competencies, so that everyone does not get through. Only a limited number of candidates — and, indeed, candidates of a certain minimum quality — reach the next round. Examinations, by definition, discriminate. The only question that may legitimately be raised is whether they are discriminating on valid and relevant grounds.
There is a misleading discussion surrounding the CSAT controversy that should be disposed of at the outset. This has to do with whether or not English is required in order to run the administration of this great country. From the available evidence, of course, there is pretty little required of the average bureaucrat — beyond greed, that is — and that requires no language at all. Most of the business of administration is carried on in the local language — and, in any case, file notings are hardly a literary genre requiring high linguistic competence. All of this is true — as also the fact that the Constitution and the laws of the country are primarily in English — for historical, if also regrettable, reasons. But, contrary to currently dominant fashions, regret cannot undo history. And putative bureaucrats should have a passing familiarity with the Constitution, at least.
However, the main argument in favour of retaining the linguistic (and so, English) component in the CSAT examination is that, traditionally, linguistic ability has been considered one index of intellectual ability — along with mathematical and analytic ability. The argument that the English component favours — confers an advantage on — candidates of a certain class and social background is, in my opinion, entirely valid.
Yogendra Yadav’s claim (‘And the winner is English’, IE, August 4) regarding the linguistic apartheid that is prevalent in our country is undeniable. There is an entire class, whose claim to the disproportionate attention they get derives from a certain fluency, an ability to gabble, in English. And I can certainly imagine designing an English examination that filters these fluent semi-literates out. Even though it would leave the deep injustice of the larger social conjuncture undisturbed.
However, the immediate problem before the UPSC is to somehow equalise the difficulty felt by the English-unknowing in comparison with the gabblers continued…