Controversy
The question, which appeared in the General Studies Paper 1 exam conducted on Saturday, left many students surprised and disappointed.
Image for representation. Courtesy: Pixcy

“What are the challenges to our cultural practices in the name of secularism?” This is not a right wing Twitter handle out to create some ruckus – this was a real question asked to the country's top civil services aspirants by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in one of the exams conducted by the authority on Saturday.

The UPSC conducts exams to recruit candidates to serve in top government posts through various service exams. The Civil Services Mains exam is one such exam which is written by aspiring bureaucrats who have cleared the prelims for the same. UPSC conducts these exams every year across the country, and this year the mains exam is scheduled from September 20 to 29.

In the General Studies Paper 1 given on Saturday morning, candidates were shocked to find a rather controversial question in their paper. The question was on the “challenges” to India's cultural practices “in the name of secularism.” This question, in an exam that looks for the future administrators of India, seemed to insinuate that secularism was an excuse which is posing challenges to the country's existing cultural practices.

Commenting on the matter, Kannan Gopinathan – an IAS officer who quit the services recently over the clampdown in Jammu and Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370, commented on Twitter: "Indian secularism is a positive concept, taking along and encouraging all the cultural practices while instilling a scientific temper against superstitions and harmful practices.", would have been the first sentence of my answer!”

This question comes as a part of a series of questions which prime candidates to think in a right-wing manner, alleges a student who wrote the exam on Saturday, requesting anonymity. "A few questions before this one, they had asked, “What makes Indian society unique in sustaining its culture”; and a few questions before that, there was, “Did Indian renaissance play a role in the emergence of national identity” etc.," he says.

Adding that there have been instances of UPSC doling out controversial questions earlier as well he says, "Those would be neutrally worded. There is a subtle difference between wording it neutrally and loading it," he says.

Slamming the UPSC for including such questions, the student said that the Commission needs to be pulled up for this. “I understand that the idea of secularism is under attack. But there is no academic consensus, nor is there a judicial consensus about this. Judiciary still says that secularism is a basic tenet of our Constitution. That is what we need to stick to. UPSC is a Constitutional body, not an independent think tank framing question for their intern. UPSC must stick to Constitutional values and definitely deserves brickbats for this," he says.

Another student, who also wrote the exam on Saturday, says that the question was unexpected and antithetical to one's understanding of secularism. "The question has a very limited scope. Apart from conflicts between the morality of a religion and the morality of a nation, there is not much to explain in the answer to this question," he says. He adds that this was one of the most difficult questions asked this time. "This was a loaded question. interpretation of the question is a challenge in itself and then comes winding the arguments around the aspects asked in the question," he says.

Ramesh Chennithala, former President of Kerala Congress and the present Leader of Opposition in Kerala also commented on the issue on his Twitter account by stating that UPSC is the latest casuality of RSS agenda.