UPSC IAS Essay Strategy by Ms Gazal Bharadwaj (Rank 40) – One of the Highest Marks – 147 in Essay Paper (CSE – 2015)
Why I write this post today is because essay writing has always been of interest to me, however in UPSC this was one paper which was ruining me during my last 2 attempts as I scored only 74 (mains 2013) and 104 (mains 2014), each time missing the cutoff very closely (I scored 147 in 2015). This would happen despite my being satisfied with my performance in essay paper and despite my writing inclinations (which you would observe on my blog 🙂 I would be severely disheartened, because I had always loved writing and blogging and was not able to take it that essay paper was screwing things up! Definitely something was going wrong and needed an amend of strategy.
I began with noting down my approach in UPSC essay paper during the low scoring attempts:
- My essays were spontaneous. i.e reading the options and picking one and taking twenty minutes to plan and structure
- My focus was more on thought process, on depth rather than width.
- My handwriting was fine. Also my essays would be well divided into a catchy introduction, body and conclusion. I would underline and use headings.
I realized there was not problem in structuring, rather in content. My content involved a spontaneous integration of whatever knowledge I had gathered during my preparation and revision before mains.
THE CHANGE OF UPSC IAS ESSAY STRATEGY
This time I decided to change my approach and take essay paper as one whole 250 marks paper which can let you in the list, or throw you out of it. During last two months before mains, I compiled certain themes of recent and general relevance dealing with economic, social, political and international arena and began to jot down various aspects relating to them. For eg-
- Inequality, capitalism ( Prepared just a week before mains as I came across Thomas Piketty’s discussion on capitalism and democracy, wherein he said that India should have more public investment in education, health and infrastructure if it wants to bring down inequality and that every strong capitalist society in the world and every successful historical experience of capitalist development did include a very strong collective effort to invest in public education, public infrastructure, access to health.
- Technology related (Internet of things, robots replacing people in Japan etc issues in news)
- Civil society and ngo’s related (Nobel prize to Tunisian civil society group, Quartet and so much of controversy related to ngo’s and FCRA in India)
- Tolerance and progress related (Returning of literary awards, RBI Governor’s speech on Tolerance)
- Terrorism (Due to ISIS)
- Education related everything (because a new education policy was being drafted, a theme also linked to a poetry book I was working on to publish, so MHRD document titled “New Education Policy”, inviting comments from various stakeholders had been properly researched my me.)
HOW INSIGHTS HELPED ME
Now, I did not write proper essays on any of these topics. But, I researched everything linked to them in advance and different kind of questions that can be asked related to these. It’s here that Insights essay questions and Insights daily debate compilation helped me a lot. This is because various sources were mentioned to form a base on. And different perspectives of fellow students would help to analyse various nuances of a topic. For example:
-Are classrooms irrelevant to learning?
-Is growing level of competition good for children?
I clubbed this with newspaper articles on Higher education institutes and autonomy, IIM and IIT controversy and with the MHRD document titled “New Education Policy”
2. Privacy vs transparency
Clubbed it with aadhar related issues, SC verdicts, Right to privacy as FR etc
3. Progress and growth in nation and tolerance
4. Role of ngos in governance
5. Terrorism related
HOW THIS CHANGED STRATEGY HELPED ME DURING THE EXAM
I was delighted to see two of my favourite topics in the exam-
- Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make a man more clever devil.
- Technology cannot replace manpower.
- I already had the structure and content clear in my mind. That saved my twenty minutes of planning the essay on the spot. And so I took just five mins to plan, and could give whole 125 minutes to both my essays.
- I already had stirring introductions for both themes. Eg- In essay one I luckily knew whose statement it actually was. So I started my started my essays like:
ESSAY 1: The anti war and anti imperialist BERTRAND RUSSEL, who was sent to prison during the first world war for what was called his pacificm had once remarked rightly:
“If men were rational in their conduct, intelligence would be enough to make the world a paradise. But humans are actuated by passions which distort their view… that is why the heart is as important as the head…. When the kindly impulses of the heart are absent, science only makes man more cleverly diabolic”
ESSAY2: ” The reason I love technology is not the technology itself, although that is exciting. The reason I love technology is because of what it makes possible.”
Yes. It is us humans whose ideas and endeavour has made all technology possible. And technology is only as valuable as the purpose towards which it is put. Technology is only as valuable as the dedication, the passion, the commitment and the excitement of the people who choose to work with it. If we know that the difference between a successful application of technology and a failed application of technology is the people who choose to use it and their commitment, we will understand that technology cannot ever replace manpower, rather enhance it. But history shows us how machines took away employment from millions of people who made handicrafts and put them into what economists call ‘technological unemployment’. Movements like Luddism are a testimony to this phenomenon. And today with the rise of robotics, internet of things and artificial intelligence, the threat can be all the more real. So then what?
The answer lies in the dynamic of partnership between people who understand what technology can do and people who have the passion and commitment and understanding of what purposes technology should be pointed towards. So whether it needs to replace manpower in an ageing country like Japan or aid manpower in a labour surplus India is for us to decide.
- If you notice, I made my stand very clear, right at the beginning of the essay. Your essay first para must contain a jist of what you wish to argue in the rest of your words. You may start with a quote, a verse or a story. But take a stand, and defend it for the rest of your essay.
- I divided the body into many parts:
a) historical perspective:
- ESSAY 1: What’s the purpose of education since it evolved as a concept? To create a whole individual, in harmony with all learning he/she has acquired. But what is our modern education system leading to- student suicides in India, Patna cheating case, shooting sprees in America :
- ESSAY 2: in the early days, only the elites were educated. Manuscripts were so valuable that monasteries and libraries actually secured them with chains. A century later, schools were much more widespread and books were printed in dozens of languages. So what happened? the printing press was invented, but that alone didn’t make the difference. The technology was necessary but not sufficient. It was only when an entrepreneurial group of printers linked up with a group of scholars and these scholars translated the original Latin into dozens of different languages, only then did learning become widespread. (Had read the example somewhere)
In other words, it was only when the people who had the newest technology joined forces with the educators who could help make use of the technology did the Renaissance achieve its true potential.
b) Present times economy: examples to cite how banking and financial education being cleverly misused by atm frauds, satyam scandal, saradha chit funds, sahara etc in the first essay. And example of agriculture, industry and service sectors in second essay. Eg. How some jobs are under threat, while others are getting born, but technological unemployment can be tackled if we understand the shift and skill our population accordingly.
c) Present times society: similar approach with recent examples. Quoted developments in E-commerce, ranging from the creation of electronic market places to new logistics networks and payments systems. Today, a consumer in a small town can have the same choice of clothing fashions that anyone from the large metros enjoy, simply because the Internet has brought all the shops in India to her doorstep. And while her local shop no longer can sell shoddy apparel, it now focuses on the perishable items she needs in a hurry, even while sub-contracting to provide the last leg of the logistic network that reaches her. (quoted somewhere by RBI governor). So its about partnership between technology and manpower rather than one replacing another
d) Political and Ethical aspects
e) Way forward which included what is being done and what must be done: policies and programmes and their failings and suggestions
- Reiterated my stand in conclusion and ended on a positive note.: That the state shud take responsibility and evolve a proper public education strategy and put more money there. Quoted Thomas Piketty here (used the capitalism stuff in education essay)
I have tried to narrate my change of strategy here because what I learnt from the whole experience was that essay paper is not about being a writer or having writing instincts. Its about hardwork and prior preparation and integration of all your preparation. I attach a sample on how I prepared notes on essay this year, if it helps (although I believe we all have our own different ways of integrating information and analysing it):
Note: these are only notes, not a full fledged essay
Terrorism and Humanity – How to Deal with Terrorism and its Threats?
“One day they struck together two wild stones. Fire, they invented. Or discovered it may be.
Then, one day, they called it sacred.
Today, they know fire. A chemical reaction producing smoke, and warming up the globe.
Whether with firearms, which kids in our cities play with.
or those by militants and armies,in a Mosul or Tikrit.
Paradoxically. On this warming up globe, in this world on fire, raging red.
We’re all getting colder, with indifference or hatred.
And I shiver again, another cold night,
on this warming up globe,
and with every sound of the gun….”
(I planned to begin any essay on terror, ISIS etc quoting a verse I wrote long back on my blog, and ending with the same verse)
As I imagine myself, as a young girl or a boy, recently taken hostage somewhere in Iraq, the above words repeat in my mind, every single night. Already seperated from my family, I fear if I would be killed, made a sex slave or put into a training camp. I lament that Terrorism is an anti-thesis of Humanity, to be precise. Yet it is we humans who have invented it. And I cry, that despite knowing this for decades, we are not doing enough to deal with it, either as individuals or nations.
To think of a definition, terrorism is a pre-mediated, politically or ideologically motivated violence perpetrated against non- combatant targets, usually intended to influence an audience by creation of fear. And although there is no legally binding criminal law definition of terrorism in the international community, we must be wary of equating it with Islamism or jihadism while ignoring non-Islamic organizations or individuals.
The international community’s concerted efforts to evolve a global counter-terrorism strategy notwithstanding, the global terror network is becoming more threatening and menacing. The enemy is no longer unseen or hidden. Al-Qaeda began to physically control territory in Yemen some years ago. Al-Shabab has registered spectacular successes in Somalia. Boko Haram is taking over towns in northern Nigeria, and the IS is holding territory in Iraq and Syria that is equivalent in size to the land area of the United Kingdom. This represents a paradigm shift. Terrorists continue to receive funding and are able to mount ever more complex operations. The fusion of ultra-extremist ideology, continued public support and funding in parts of West Asia explain, to some extent, the rise of the IS.
TRACING THE ORIGINS
To deal with terrorism first we need to understand its roots and its causes of origin. Terrorists use the diverse theories for their benefit and mould it according to their wishes.
USING RELIGION ONLY AS A GARB– Religion which is used by terrorists is nothing but a garb to hide its true ideals and seek legitimacy for immoral acts which otherwise have no sanction an any religion.
- Terrorism and violent extremism find breeding grounds either in weak and fragile states or in societies where freedom of expression is suppressed and civil liberties are seriously circumscribed. Chronic underdevelopment, deprivation of basic human rights and restrictions on freedom of speech make terrorism and violence particularly attractive for the young unemployed.
- The other major cause of its strengthening is interference of other nations into a country. In the garb of introducing democracy they acted to create fissures into the society of already established nations to promote their own interests. This process is going on from the starting of 20th century whether it is Sykes-Picot agreement or creation of Israel or wars waged by Western nations in Middle-East countries from time to time.
- How to interfere?-It is widely accepted that the use of force, whether authorised and legitimate or without legality, has unintended consequences.
- Equally, arming rebels is a bad idea. There are no “good” or “bad” rebels. All rebels are not only capable of turning, but in fact do turn, “rogue” The disturbing thing is that these nations have not learnt from their experience and still try to distinguish between good terrorism and bad terrorism.
Terrorism has received a major boost from such policy-induced and ill-conceived decisions by the international community. Military action in Iraq in 2003, the arming of rebels in Libya and Syria by the West and some of the Gulf states stand out.
3. DISCONTENT AND ITS CHANNELISATION IN DESTRUCTIVE DIRECTIONS BY MASSIVE PROPAGANDA: Extremist and terrorist organisations flourish because they have been able to channelize human discontent and grievances to injustice towards destructive directions of perpetuating the same injustice on innocent people, with the aim of unleashing terror and revenge.
WHY PEOPLE GET ATTRACTED TO IT?
These terror outfits fight against legitimate govts because they want to capture the power and resources of the state and rule not as per democratic ideals, but what they perceive to be right. What is disturbing however is when educated people too get brainwashed by their ideologies, and join them rendering their whole education process futile. EG. Wasim completed B.Tech in Hyderabad in 2011 and flew to London to pursue M.S. programme and also secured the degree from Greenwich University. Its important thus to examine what attracts these educated people to these destructive and inhuman ideologies:
(1) Massive propaganda machinery of terror organisations including both cash and technologies
(2) It is the disenchantment and perceived feeling of exclusion in these educated people which is exploited by these organisations. Eg. Even educated women from developed Europe were found joining the isis because of inherent problems in the western model of secularism which leads to disconnect of their minorities from their elected govts.
(3) Sometimes, economic hardships and prolonged unemployment leads to frustration building in educated youth and they turn towards radicalism, which gives them a perceived respect on the battlefield which they were denied by a dignified job, as seen in Afghanistan.
(4) At times legitimate govts may become sectarian eg. Narrow Assad n al Maliki regimes which alienated large section o Sunnis from public posts exasperated matters
(5) Due to social media and active campaigning of these extreme groups, these people are exposed to these ideas at very vulnerable ages and the tragedy is there is no similar counter ideological campaign either online or offline to provide them an alternative narrative and they fall prey to these ideas.
(6) Finally it is a thirst for unchallenged power and prestige which anarchy and a perceived notion of following one’s faith gives them leads educational youth towards such organisations.
LACK OF VALUES: HAVE WE FORGOTTEN OUR INTRINSIC HUMANENESS?
- Lack rationality: Such educated people lack rationality to distinguish logically between right and wrong.
- Ends and means: They fail to realize that use of violence will never lead to a just society as Gandhi Ji often said that “Noble Goals can be achieved only through Noble Means”.
- No respect for equality of all humans: They also fail to realize the essence of values of brotherhood and equality that all people are same. Thus, a cause which is achieved by killing by innocent people can never bring justice to another group/community.
- They lack emotional intelligence to regulate their negative emotions and act without weighing the consequences of their actions on themselves , their families and the people they kill.
- They also lack tolerance, and become blind to adhering to their faith or communal interests, even to the extent of disparaging those of other innocent civilians whom they maim and kill, in their fit of insanity. They lack compassion for mankind at large. In fact, this is the worst thing abour terror and extremist ideologies. Under their influence, as people try to extinguish the life of others, in the process slowly and quietly, their own inner light blows out.
HOW THEY ARE A THREAT TO HUMANITY
Recently there have been unprecedented rise in the terrorist activities in the world. Middle-east and African countries have been worst affected, Terrorist organizations such as ISIS, BOKO-HARAM, AL-QAEDA etc. are doing things which are not only retrospective but also anti-evolution.
- BOKO-HARAM which literally means Western Education is bad started with cultural propaganda and it’s now inflicting grave crimes on humanity, eg. thousands of Girls from Schools have been abducted and they are converted and made to work and act like a slave for the fighting terrorists. Similarly What ISIS is doing is in front of whole humanity they are openly beheading, butchering, enslaving humans wherever they can.
- They justify killing of other religious groups, minorities ,and they inflict disproportionatepunishment such as death for Apostasy, stoning for adultery , chopping limbs for burglary etc. these are against the modern way of life style and system of Punishments. Eg. Recent revelation about the working of ISIS by absconding members of the group suggests that how Women and even males are treated very badly in the intra-group setup.
- These Ideologies works on the anti-diversity principles, it doesn’t recognizes the basic tenets of Natural justice even Rt. To life, leave other things.
THE DIFFICULTY IN DEALING WITH THE MONSTER
- HOW ANTI TERROR OPERATIONS MAY THEMSELVES BECOME A REASON– Sometimes the anti-terrorist operations are itself blamed with the anti-humanity acts eg. Zarb-e-abz by Pakistani govt. where citizens also gets vindicated and govt. kept silence and calling it as ‘collateral damage’. similarly, anti-naxal operations have often given rise to many controversial happenings one among them was SALWA-JUDUM
- TERRORISM IS SLOWLY ACQUIRING A REGIONAL NATURE
- NO UNITY OF EFFORT EITHER WITHIN GOVTS OR AMONGST GOVTS– In both cases information travels only vertically with very little horizontal coordination. Secondly, the first hurdle in achieving any unity of effort is that govts have different definitions and most of them do not consider terrorism as a threat until they fall victim to it.
- UNSC FAILURE TO DEFINE TERRORISM DUE TO FEAR OF P5 TO INCLUDE STATE TERRORISM OR THEIR CLASSIFICATION OF GOOD AND BAD TERRORISM
state sponsored terrorism should be condemned internationally and in the harshest possible words and no country should give tacit support to terrorists in order to achieve its myopic goal, a prerequisite for the Humanity to survive at large.
- CHANGING NATURE OF TERRORIST FINANCING– Terrorists now depend on unknown sympathisers or crime. Terrorists also double up or infiltrate respected charities. They use informal systems like hawala networks or intra organisation transfers like charity sending money to its branches.
TOWARDS DEVISING SOLUTIONS
Rooting out of terrorism completely is the only solution to tackle the menace of terrorism.
- ERODING THEIR BASE AND DISCREDITING THEIR IDEAS: First step should be erosion of its base among mis-directed people who are used by it to serve the purpose of elite in terrorist organisation. It can be done by dissemination of modern values and solving their economic, social and political grievances. Success in fighting terrorism hinges on discrediting their ideas, and not in jailing or killing of few terrorists.
- THERE IS NOTHING LIKE GOOD OR BAD TERRORISM– Second step should be to stop delineating so called “good” terrorism and “bad” terrorism. All funding to any organisation should be stopped. Otherwise strengthening of one group will lead to its movement from “good” to “bad” category.
- DEMOCRACY CAN NOT BE ‘IMPOSED’– Days after United States forces had brushed aside President Saddam Hussein’s forces in concentrated attacks, in 2003, President George Bush is said to have proclaimed- “Iraqi democracy will succeed and that success will send forth news, from Damascus to Tehran, that freedom can be the fate of every nation.” Faced with reports of large-scale looting that followed the fall of Baghdad on April 12 that year, his ideological mentor and Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was dismissive: “freedom’s untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes ….” Therefore, interference of other nations should be checked. Achievement of democracy should be based on the movement of people and not on the forceful imposition of other nations.
- FOCUS ON HITHERTO NEGLECTED DOMAINS LIKE MARITIME AND CYBER TERRORISM– Fourth, in this fight against terrorism all nation need to cooperate with each other and diplomacy based on equality of nations should be the mode of providing solution to the differences between nations. They must get together to devise strategies to deal with hitherto neglected cyber terrorism and maritime terrorism, which are extremely dangerous. Eg. 2/3rds of the high seas being beyond the jurisdiction of any state can be attractive targets. May lead to explosions of oil tankers, or detonating a radiological device on containerships at ports or at choke points which can deliver a crippling blow to global trading.
- CURB TERRORIST FINANCING– UNSC Resolution 1373 in 2001 obligated all states to prevent financing of terrorism, followed by G7 expanding the writ of its FATF to cover terrorist finances
- COORDINATED PLANNING FOR EFFECTIVE CONSEQUENCE MANAGEMENT– Within nations, planners must focus on effective and efficient consequence management to deal with the aftermath of terrorist strikes. Eg. We may contrast the 2005 london subway bombing as an excellent example of calm and quick restoration of citizen’s confidence vs the 2008 mumbai attacks as an example of confused and uncoordinated consequence management.
The menace of terrorism should be handled as soon as possible otherwise it will bring destruction to humanity and world-peace.
It is said that sometimes questions are more powerful than answers. Indeed, humanity is faced with this very powerful question. Let this young girl or boy captured somewhere in Iraq, I talked about in the beginning, put it to us. For he/she still hopes, we as humans, the most powerful species on earth would do something about it-
“And as I shiver again, another cold night,
on this warming up globe,
and with every sound of the gun…
Mother, I think of, the fire
You once lit up on my forehead, one evening
when you drew up on it, the sun.
Which fire lives forever,
and which perishes with this globe and me.
Is for mankind to see.
So, You want which one?”
If you have indeed reached this far of the long saga, i hope this experience becomes of any use to you. There is a saying which I always remembered and which fits so well in my essay paper experience-
“Failure is the universe’s way of telling you to either try harder, or try something else. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
If you are not yet bored of this already long saga, you can reach me at http://gazalbharadwaj.blogspot.in/2016/05/yes-its-sinking-in-upsc-circle-close.html
Regarding queries, please post here only and I’ll answer as it will benefit others too.
I wish you all the best for your journey.