UPSC question paper gets ‘lost in translation’, RSS-backed body wants it drafted in Hindi

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) headquarters in New Delhi | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

New Delhi: An RSS-linked committee wants the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) to draft the question papers for the civil services examination in Hindi, and then translate them into other regional languages and English.

A committee formed by RSS-linked education body Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas (SSUN) has made the suggestion to the Narendra Modi government. It had earlier called for the scrapping of the aptitude test in the UPSC exam and a change in the interview pattern.

The rationale behind the push for a Hindi question paper, the SSUN explained, was that when the question paper is set in English and translated into vernacular languages, the essence of the question is lost in translation. This, it adds, puts students taking the exam in Hindi and other languages at a disadvantage.

According to Devendra Singh, head of the SSUN’s competitive exams reform committee, almost 50 per cent of the words lose their meaning in translation. He cites the examples of words such as “population”, which is generally “jansankhya” in Hindi but was translated as “samashti” in one question paper. “Data”, which should be “data” in Hindi as well, was translated to “dutt”, he added.

“If a question is in English and it is translated into Hindi and other languages, there is an increased chance of error in the questions,” Singh said. “Almost 50 per cent of the words that are translated from English to Hindi are wrong because they are either loosely translated or are extremely difficult words.”

“This is a disadvantage for candidates writing their exam in Hindi and other Indian languages, because they are forced to resort to the English paper anyway,” he added.

According to Singh, over 90 per cent of those who qualify the UPSC exams are from an English-language background. “Our research shows that in 2018-19, only 40 students who wrote their exam in Indian languages, including 17 who wrote the paper in Hindi, were able to qualify, which is a huge disparity,” Singh said.

Fair point, but not the solution

While former UPSC members agree that the point being raised is valid, they do not see setting papers in Hindi as a solution to the problem.

“The point that the RSS is raising is valid because meaning is mostly lost in translation when a question paper is translated from English to Hindi, because people are either using things like Google translate or Hindi official dictionaries with difficult words,” a former UPSC member said.

“However, that does not mean setting the paper in Hindi will solve the problem.”

Asked if this would affect the composition of the panel that sets the question papers, the former member said: “Of course, UPSC will need to have people who know Hindi in the panel that sets question papers. But they have to be necessarily multilingual and not just those who know Hindi.

“There has to be someone to moderate the paper, so having multilingual people is a must.”

Question papers are set by a secret panel in the UPSC, the composition of which is not disclosed by the commission. Only the secretary and chairman of the commission deal with the panel, which consists of experts in various subjects and issues.