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India's aspiring civil servants up in arms over English language exam section

Hindi-speaking aspirants to India's prestigious civil service said they want the English language component of the entrance exams scrapped. They claimed it is disciminatory to non-fluent English speakers.

NEW DELHI: Hindi-speaking aspirants to India's prestigious civil service said they want the English language component of the entrance exams scrapped. They claimed it is disciminatory to non-fluent English speakers, in a country with more than 1,000 languages.

About 500,000 to 600,000 aspirants sit for India's highly competitive civil services exam every year. But the coveted process for selecting candidates has been mired in controversy this year.

Candidates claimed the English component of the examination disadvantages non-English speakers or those with poor English skills. They also said the success rate of non-English speaking candidates have fallen since it was introduced in 2011.

The grievance has triggered widespread protests across the country.

Protester Lokpati Tripathi said: "We want the aptitude test to be completely scrapped. The date of preliminary examination that has been announced should be postponed and English shouldn't be compulsory in the preliminary or main examination."

In response to the backlash, the federal government has offered a quick-fix solution. It said that results from the English element of the aptitude test will not be included in the exam's overall grade.

However, detractors have criticised the solution as not being foolproof.

Manish Tewari, spokesperson of Congress party, said: "What comes out of this entire matter is that the government has not thought it through. The government is in a state of policy paralysis and confronted with a small matter like this, which would have been easily resolved to everybody's satisfaction the government has actually gone around in circles trying to catch its own tail and in the process it has made everybody's life miserable and possibly compromised national interest also."

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has encountered back-to-back challenges over the politically-wrought issue of language since taking office in May.

India has 1.2 billion people speaking more than 1,000 languages, 22 of which have official status. In July, political parties in non-Hindi speaking states were furious about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's memo requesting Hindi be the main language used in official communications.

The issue of language has remained contentious because of the country's heritage and colonial past. And now, apart from the regional interests, the issue has also placed at stake the future of India's young wanting a career in the civil service. 

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