“I picked nearly all of my conversational English in the one year after I joined service, through numerous interactions, including those with senior officials. In a maximum of one year, anyone can grasp a language they are constantly exposed to. That’s how I learnt Punjabi after being posted here,” says Srinivasan, who cleared the exam in Tamil at age 22, in his very first attempt.
“If I were to appear in 2011, I would definitely have not cleared the exam. What sense does it make to prioritise fluency in English in a competitive exam where several appear from rural areas and are absolutely out of touch with English?” asks Srinivasan, who studied in a Tamil-medium government school in Poongotam village in Tiruvarur district.
Not denying the usefulness of knowing basic English for functioning as an administrator, Srinivasan thoroughly objects to English being a qualifying criterion to enter the civil services. “Why should the government exclude efficient administrators from the system not on their ability to read and understand English but on their lack of proficiency in the language? English speaking can be made compulsory in the training given to officers after selection,” he suggests.
Those who give the exam in their regional language and clear it can definitely comprehend English, as all questions in the exam are only in English and Hindi. Making certain questions in English of a certain standard compulsory, he says, is bound to disadvantage those from poor socio-economic backgrounds. “A common paper for all, eliminating the optional paper in the prelims, is a good idea. But the CSAT clearly disadvantages those from lower classes.”
While very few non-English speakers make it to the services, when they do get selected, they face innumerable problems during the training at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy, he says. “We have to struggle to understand the course which is only in English and Hindi. The faculty speaks only in the two languages and it’s almost impossible to make friends if you can’t speak English,” he says.
“Aspirants from socio-economically weaker sections most often go to government schools and they are the ones most close to the grassroots. The CSAT pattern then pushes out many who are sensitive and committed in favour of those who are proficient in English but are far less sensitive. The decision mirrors the kind of administrators our government wants to employ,” says Srinivasan.