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Given the changing requirements of an all-India civil services career, the Union Public Services Commission decided to update the examination and standardise it to the extent possible. Some of these proposed tweaks, though, have been interpreted as affronts to linguistic diversity, and have been put on hold after vociferous political objection. So far, candidates had been required to qualify in two language examinations in the second stage of the civil service exam — one in a chosen regional language, and one in English. These tests were on a pass/ fail basis, and did not contribute to the final score. The new pattern, though, seeks to make English scores in a new mini-test matter — although, at 100 marks out of a total 2075, they would count for less than 5 per cent of the total. Those who advocate the changes argue this would be gentler on those whose English is shaky — instead of being bluntly disqualified, the new pattern would make it a small part of the overall score. Students who want to take the other mains tests in a regional language would now have to prove that they graduated from schools where it was the medium of instruction, and that there must be at least 25 students who want the test in that language. States across India, from Tamil Nadu to Gujarat and Maharashtra, have strongly resisted this attempt to entrench Hindi and English as the default settings. This, they claim, is an attempt to keep a linguistically rooted India out of the administrative elite. These fears are exaggerated.
Over the decades, the examination has gone through several changes to make sure it is fair and inclusive. What's more, English and Hindi have always been the languages of officialdom, for the Central services. This is not a question of identity, it is a matter of transactional convenience. These are services where, more often that not, an officer gets posted out of her home state, to a place that requires her to invest in learning an unfamiliar language and culture, to connect with the citizens she serves. Given that English is the medium for most official communication, it is not unreasonable to expect some facility with the language, though literary prowess is obviously not required.
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