Sunday Anchor

Regional divides and clash of aspirations

At the heart of the controversy surrounding the Civil Service Aptitude Test (CSAT) is the allegation of a slant in favour of the urban, English-speaking elite. This accusation has largely come from candidates of the Hindi belt.

However, the protests in New Delhi have been challenged by a vigorous counter-movement in the South and the East, not in favour of English but against an attempt by those from the Hindi heartland to project themselves as the only victims of the system.

In both instances, the primary thread has been the clash of aspirations of different sets of candidates. While the focus on English skills has disillusioned those from rural areas, candidates of other regional languages fear a Hindi hegemony in the Civil Services, a panic heightened by the BJP government’s eagerness in promoting the language.

Format questioned

The argument of candidates from a Hindi-speaking background is that CSAT has been formatted in such a way that it favoured the aspirants trained in suave, urban institutions.

This was despite the fact that Hindi translations of the questions are provided, except for the comprehension part that has to be answered in English. But the contention is that the translations are too literal and on most occasions, incomprehensible to someone who does not have a working knowledge of English.

Adding to this is the notion that CSAT favours those from an Engineering background through its emphasis on analytical skills. For the aspirants from rural areas, this is seen as loaded in favour of those who emerge out of elite urban engineering institutions, where analytical skills as tested in CSAT are honed systematically.

In Tamil Nadu though, candidates claim double-victimisation.

“Though we do not oppose the demands of the Hindi-speaking candidates, the people most affected by CSAT are those from rural areas of non-Hindi regions,” says Saravanan Govindhan, an aspirant who led the pro-regional language protests in Chennai.

The fear in Tamil Nadu is that by bowing to the pressure created by the protests in New Delhi, the government may take the drastic step of diluting CSAT in its Hindi version.

“Already, the proportion of Hindi-speaking candidates taking the Civil Service Examination is very high compared to those from the non-Hindi belt,” he says.

Estimates from several IAS training academies put the percentage of candidates with Hindi as the mother tongue anywhere near 60 per cent of all those who take the test.


“The issue here is that a Hindi-speaking person has the option of taking the test in his mother tongue. Others are stripped of this option. This is inherently discriminatory,” says D. Shankar, director of Shankar IAS Academy.

At the same time, Mr. Shankar is opposed to the view that analytical ability could only be tested in English.

“A person who has absolutely no knowledge of English could still be analytically superior. These are two independent skills,” he points out.

The demand of the regional candidates that even if CSAT is not scrapped, it must be conducted in all the languages listed under Schedule 8 of the Constitution to make the test a level playing field, has now been granted.

“By trying to fight English, we are not ready to allow a Hindi domination of Civil Services,” asserts the Tamil Nadu IAS Aspirants’ Forum.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 3:11:09 PM |

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