Pali, the ancient Indian language associated with the Buddha’s teachings, may have lost its practical use a long time ago, but aspirants to the Indian civil services swear by it because it is a high-scoring paper. Now, a high-level committee set up to propose reforms in the civil services exam wants “Literature of the Pali language” out of the list of papers that candidates can take, unless he or she had it as a subject in graduation. The Union Public Service Commission, or UPSC – the organisation responsible for civil services exams – has supported the expert committee’s view. It’s up to the government now to take a decision — but, as with all things cultural in India, the matter isn’t that straightforward. There are supposedly religious sentiments attached to the archaic language that Opposition politicians might raise. Besides, many would-be bureaucrats might be disappointed, if this paper is struck off the list. In the 2012 civil services mains, around 500 candidates opted for languages as an optional paper. Of them, 400 chose Pali. The other languages – French, German, Russian, Arabic, Manipuri and Maithili – collectively accounted for the remaining 100. There’s more. Of the 400 appearing in Pali for civils, only one had it as a subject at the graduation level.
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