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Sen’s argument, excerpted in the 2013 test, would be impenetrable for someone whose only chance of understanding it would be to turn to its Hindi translation. Sen’s argument, excerpted in the 2013 test, would be impenetrable for someone whose only chance of understanding it would be to turn to its Hindi translation.
Posted: August 21, 2014 12:05 am | Updated: August 21, 2014 5:58 am

students from all backgrounds. Translation only adds to the confusion.

This is not an isolated example. Such problems abound in passage after passage in the test paper. To put it simply, they favour and privilege one background over another. The bias is more pronounced in technical questions. While the entire test paper appears to be speaking to students from an urban, privileged and English-educated background, it does not evince much interest in testing the knowledge of students from relatively remote and disadvantaged ones who are proficient in Indian languages and are saddled with an “unsophisticated” sensibility.

The students who are protesting on the streets understand very well that the argument about their “disrespect” for English is a smokescreen to hide the truth that the arc of the CSAT bends against and away from them. The fewer number of students from an Indian-language background among successful candidates in the last two examinations is a sure indicator of the bias and prejudice that the CSAT has come to embody. The response of the Indian government — that marks in English-language comprehension skills would not be included — does not acknowledge the basic issues the students are raising.

Further, even those English aficionados desirous of its propagation throughout the country would help their cause by identifying better passages for the test and framing questions more carefully so as to create a level playing field for those who are not very proficient in English. Much like the half-baked knowledge and the high-decibel superciliousness that is on display in television debates, the CSAT question papers are replete with an embedded bias, indiscriminate selection of passages, indeterminate questions and, above all, opacity. So much so that a passage from Swami Vivekananda’s Karma Yoga is reproduced in such an out-of-context manner in the 2013 test paper that even the father of India’s spiritual awakening must be wondering if his countrymen will ever rise from their colonial slumber.

The writer is a retired IAS officer. Views are personal

express@expressindia.com

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