We the undersigned are disturbed at the policy signal implicit in the decision of the Union Public Service Commission to alter the pattern of Civil Services examinations in a way that systematically discriminates against Indian languages. Thankfully, the matter was raised in the Lok Sabha and the decision has been "put in abeyance". This is clearly not enough. What is required is a withdrawal of all these changes and a critique of the mindset that produces such policies, for it is not just unjust and unfair, it goes against the spirit of democracy and swaraj that inform our republic.
The new scheme of examination announced by the UPSC and now stayed by the government contains a four-pronged onslaught on the Indian languages. First, on the one hand, the earlier requirement of passing at least one paper in any one Indian language has been done away with. On the other hand, the marks in the compulsory paper in English will now count towards final selection. Third, there is a bizarre condition that in order to opt for literature as an optional paper, a candidate must have done graduation with specialization in that subject; there is no such condition for any other discipline. Finally, instead of the earlier practice of allowing all the languages of Schedule VIII as medium of examination, now there is a double stipulation: the candidate must have opted for that medium in his/her graduation and there must be at least 25 candidates who opt for that medium of instruction.
The argument that these changes are mandated by the need to check abuse of the existing provisions is not borne out by the evidence put out by the UPSC. Some literature optionals, like many other disciplines, were seen to be 'easy' and more 'scoring' but this is not the case with every literature optional. In any case such lacunae need to be plugged by redesigning the syllabi and controlling the quality of question papers and marking, not by putting absurd restrictions. The argument about 'practical convenience' is also deeply flawed: the convenience of the UPSC cannot be privileged over the basic need of the diverse linguistic communities in our country which enjoy constitutional protection. This decision is not about encouraging familiarity with English in a globalizing world, it is about cultivating mono-lingual elite in a civilization marked by multi-lingualism. This decision is not about promoting 'merit' but about deliberately restricting the social pool for selection of future civil servants.
If not changed, this decision will adversely affect all the Schedule VIII languages. The UPSC data for recent years shows that the stipulation about at least 25 students opting for a certain language as a medium of examination would eliminate all Indian languages except three or four. The other decisions about language proficiency would hurt all the Schedule VIII languages, including Hindi, equally. In fact this issue brings together all the bhashas against the dominance of English and must become a moment to assert the unity of Indian languages.
The message coming from the highest authority in charge of public service recruitment is loud and clear: future administrators must be fluent in English and they do not need even functional literacy in any of the Indian languages used by more than 99% of the country's population. Unless this is fully withdrawn, it would work against a vast majority of students in higher education who are shifting to Indian languages as medium of instruction and examination. This would also work against the logic of democratisation by reversing the recent trend and skewing the social profile of the future administrators back in favour of the English speaking elite. Above all, it would reinforce the trend towards undervaluing of the cultural resources of Indian languages and privileging the impoverished monolinguism of English.
We demand that the UPSC withdraw these changes in entirety. Instead, the earlier requirement of functional literacy in any one Indian language should be raised to the level of fluency. Candidates who opt for Indian languages as medium of examination should be facilitated with better translation of question papers and examiners.
This episode calls for a nation-wide debate on the English-only mindset of our policy makers and a campaign to give due place to Indian languages in our public life. We call upon all democratic Indians, especially the teachers and writers of the various bhashas in our country, to unite and join this campaign.