For two years, Ms Pragya Tiwari did nothing but prepare for one of India's toughest examinations to get into the top echelons of the Indian bureaucracy. But a month before the exams, which start on Aug 24, the 25-year-old post graduate in science is taking time out to join dozens of students to protest against the aptitude test, comprising 80 multiple choice questions in both English and Hindi.
While Hindi translations are available for most questions, at least a dozen are only in English, to test language proficiency.
Ms Tiwari, who comes from a village in rural India and has done her studies in Hindi, feels that she is at an immediate disadvantage to those who have studied in English language schools, and feels the test is tilted towards the English-speaking urban elite.
"I am not scared of English and will learn it once I am selected. Why should it be part of the selection process?" said Ms Tiwari, speaking in Hindi and broken English. "The Hindi translations are also of poor quality."
India's powerful bureaucracy is a top career choice for millions of Indian job seekers.
Every year, hundreds of thousands go through the gruelling three-stage process that includes two rounds of exams on everything from general knowledge to language skill to aptitude, and an interview to get into the top tier of the police, national- and state-level administrations, and foreign service, among others.
Only those who pass the cut off marks in the preliminary exam that includes two papers - one on aptitude and another on general knowledge - get to the next stage, which includes test papers in almost a dozen subjects.
From there, students are further weeded out for the final interview process. Only around 1,000 get through each year. But in the last week, protests, some violent, have broken out against the aptitude test that includes a compulsory English comprehension test.
While the aptitude test has been around since 2011, protesters see an opportunity to get the test removed by the new government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pushed Hindi over English as the government language. Both are official but English is still preferred in the corridors of power.
Agitators from other parts of the country like the south, where Hindi is not spoken, have also joined the protests, asking that the test also be made available in the southern Indian languages.
"It is language discrimination The calibre of a student should be judged on how much they know in the subjects they are being tested and not on the knowledge of a language," said Mr Shyam Rudra Pathak, a former professor who has protested against the use of English in court documents in the high courts and supreme court.
Home minister Rajnath Singh has launched a review of the exams, but students vow to continue the protests.
"You don't need high IQ people for the bureaucracy," said Mr Suhas Gowda, 28. "You need people with high EQ, which is emotional quotient, and a desire for public service."
This article was first published on July 31, 2014.
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