UPSC row: Why Hindi medium students want the CSAT paper gone

With CSAT-II, UPSC aspirant protesters say, representation of students from Hindi medium and social sciences backgrounds in UPSC has taken a big hit.

Pallavi Polanki July 26, 2014 09:10:47 IST
UPSC row: Why Hindi medium students want the CSAT paper gone

New Delhi: The agitation over the UPSC preliminary exam paper has turned into a full-blown political crisis for the Modi government with the UPSC aspirants stepping up their protests and opposition parties raising the issue in Parliament on Friday.

The Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Jitendra Singh’s assurance that “there will be no discrimination on the basis of language” has failed to cut any ice with the protesting students.
The pattern of the second compulsory exam paper (CSAT-II) in the UPSC preliminaries, they argue, puts students from Hindi medium and non-mathematical backgrounds at a disadvantage. They are demanding that it be scrapped.

Previously, the UPSC preliminary test comprised a General Studies paper and an optional paper. In 2011, this pattern was replaced by the Civil Service Aptitude Test (CSAT) which included two compulsory papers: CSAT-I and CSAT-II.

With the inclusion of questions on quantitative analysis, logical reasoning and English language comprehension in CSAT-II, the protesters say, representation of students from Hindi medium and social sciences backgrounds in UPSC has taken a big hit.

Anand Kumar (name changed), an Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer, who qualified for the UPSC last year feels CSAT has an ‘urban’ bias. “Students from Hindi medium backgrounds feel they are at a disadvantage because this paper favours students from urban areas. It has been designed along the lines of the Common Admissions Test (CAT) exam for the MBA programmes…The representation of students from the Hindi medium backgrounds in the civil services is going down because of CSAT. They are failing to clear the preliminary test,” says Kumar.

But what specifically about CSAT-II is putting Hindi medium students at a disadvantage?

UPSC row Why Hindi medium students want the CSAT paper gone

Screenshot from IBN-Live

One, the Hindi version of the question paper, believe it or not, is being generated using Google translator, which has naturally led to a lot of confusion. Two, there is a compulsory English comprehension component which automatically puts Hindi medium students at a disadvantage.

“With CSAT, students from Hindi and regional language medium feel that those who are from English medium have a natural advantage. The question papers are set in English and they are translated to Hindi using Google translator. This is creating problems for students since the translations are not accurate. And so we are not able to interpret it in a proper way. This is the biggest contention. Second, there is a lot of focus on mathematics and aptitude in CSAT-II and this gives students from science backgrounds an undue advantage,” says Praveen, a UPSC aspirant.

Having taken the test last year, Kumar knows first-hand the challenge CSAT poses for Hindi medium students, “The UPSC examination panel is doing an exact translation of English words to Hindi using Google translator. That does not make sense. When you read the whole sentence in Hindi, it simply does not read coherently. And student are confused about what is being asked. Someone from the examination panel should apply their mind and provide an accurate translation.”

Even if the translation problem is fixed, say students, the English bias will remain because of the compulsory English comprehension component.

“With the introduction of CSAT, a lot of the Hindi and non-English students are getting screened out. They are not even clearing the preliminaries. This year, the first person to make it to the UPSC ranking structure who wrote in a language other than English was Gurudatta Hegde from Karnataka who got the 25th rank. The first 24 ranks were taken by the English medium students. The Hindi medium students were in triple digits. That is why they are panicking,” says Sriram Srirangam, Director, Sriram’s IAS, an institute that trains civil services aspirants.

In addition to this there is the analytical and quantitative component. This has put students from social sciences backgrounds at a massive disadvantage, says Srirangam.

So has the introduction of CSAT actually changed the profile of students qualifying for the UPSC?

“Absolutely. There are a large number of engineers and doctors who are clearing the exam now. Very few people from other backgrounds are qualifying. The percentage of engineers is very high. This is very discouraging for people from arts, history and literature backgrounds. This is not a good trend. The change is very much visible,” says Kumar, himself an engineer from IIT Bombay.

UPSC’s decision this week to start issuing admit cards for the preliminary exam has raised fears of UPSC preliminaries going ahead without any change and heightened the panic among students. On Thursday, the protests took a violent turn when students clashed with the Police in North Delhi. The clashes continued on Friday when protestors attempting to march to Parliament were detained by the police.

“Jitendra Singh promised us 10-15 days ago that he will look into the matter and that he would persuade the UPSC to postpone the exam till there was clarity on the pattern. But the UPSC seems to have taken a unilateral decision…The UPSC should have waited for recommendation of the government appointed committee. By issuing admit cards they have given a clear signal that the examination will take place on the scheduled date,” said Praveen, referring to the three-member Aravind Varma committee that was set up the UPA government to look into concerns raised by students.

Singh’s clarification on Friday that issue of admit cards has been “misinterpreted” and that it doesn’t mean that it will “affect the working or decisions of the government” has failed to convince the protesting students.

With the political parties now jumping into the fray and students showing no signs of relenting, the UPSC crisis seems to be far from over for the Modi government.

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