Thousands of angry men torched wagons and vehicles, blocked highways and attacked police with rocks in India as protests against a new government short-term recruitment policy for the army entered their third day .
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government this week announced an overhaul of the recruitment process for the armed forces’ 1.38 million men, aiming to recruit more people on short four-year contracts to lower the average age of the armed forces. personal.
But many would-be recruits oppose it, saying they should be allowed to serve longer than four years. Opposition parties and some members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say the system will lead to higher unemployment in a country struggling with joblessness.
Protesters threw rocks at police and set fire to coaches, police said on Friday as they used batons and tear gas to disperse protesters in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and other states where they took to the streets and damaged government buildings. .
Nearly 25,000 police have been deployed in the worst-hit state of Bihar, where protests have spread to a dozen towns in eight districts, said SK Singhal, a police officer. Protesters blocked highways and disrupted rail services for several hours.
“They blocked trains at 10 places today,” Sanjay Singh, a senior Bihar police official, told Reuters news agency, adding that more than 100 people were arrested during protests in the area on Thursday. east of the state.
Railway authorities said nearly 200 trains were affected as they canceled dozens of passenger train services and deployed additional police to stations to prevent further destruction, Indian media reported.
— ANI (@ANI) June 17, 2022
Bihar has some of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in India and has earned a reputation as a state left behind by the country’s runaway economic growth over the past few decades.
In January, mobs of angry job seekers in Bihar torched train carriages, blocked train tracks and burned effigies of Modi following allegations that entrance exams for the government-run rail sector government were conducted unfairly.
Hundreds of people also gathered in the southern city of Secunderabad on Thursday to throw stones at police, a sign that the protests were spreading.
“They also burned down properties at Secunderabad railway station,” police chief AR Srinivas said.
— ANI (@ANI) June 17, 2022
In Gwalior, a town in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, a train station was ransacked, trains vandalized and garbage cans set on fire.
In the northern Haryana town of Rewari, police used wooden batons to disperse protesters who blocked a bus station and sections of a key highway linking Rajasthan state to New Delhi, a reported the Hindustan Times newspaper.
Crowds also demonstrated in several districts of BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, including Bulandshahr, Ballia and Aligarh.
“Path of Fire”
The army’s new recruitment system, called “Agnipath” or path of fire in Hindi, will recruit men and women between the ages of 17½ and 21 for four-year terms in non-commissioned ranks, with only a quarter retained for longer periods.
Soldiers were previously recruited separately from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and typically serve until age 17, for the lowest ranks.
On Friday, the government also announced a one-time extension of the maximum age for entering the program to 23, as recruitment has been frozen for two years, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The government has decided that a one-time waiver will be granted for the proposed recruitment cycle for 2022,” the Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
The armed forces aim to recruit around 46,000 personnel under the new system this year, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh announced earlier this week. Seventy-five percent of them will be compulsorily retired after four years without pension benefits.
A full-time enlisted soldier serves for more than 35 years.
Singh defended the program, saying its goal is to “strengthen the country’s security”. With nearly 1.4 million active personnel, the Indian army is the second largest in the world after China and the third biggest spender.
Modi, who faces national elections in 2024, is under pressure to create jobs as India’s economy recovers from the pandemic crisis. One of the ideas behind short-term military recruitment is that those trained by the armed forces can then seek employment in the police or in the private sector.
The government has been criticized by some retired soldiers, opposition leaders and security analysts.
In an Al Jazeera report on Thursday, analyst Sushant Singh said the army’s new recruitment plan was announced without any discussion in parliament and could have “devastating consequences”.
“More than half of the Indian government’s defense spending, or $70.6 billion, is spent on pensions and salaries for Indian military personnel. It was skyrocketing year by year and Modi’s government was unable to launch a fundamental reform within the existing structure,” Singh wrote. “The Indian government therefore decided on Tuesday to demolish the structure itself.”
According to Singh, the military proposal will also have a direct impact on Indian society, which has seen an upsurge in hate speech and attacks against Muslims and other minorities by India’s right-wing Hindu groups since the coming to power of India. Modi in 2014.
“Research shows that the most violent ethnic cleansing occurred when members of the majority community gained combat experience as soldiers while the minority community was unorganized,” Singh wrote.
“Initially, I thought it was a trial run on a pilot basis. This is a comprehensive change aimed at converting the Indian Armed Forces into a short-lived quasi-conscript force,” tweeted GD Bakshi, a retired army general.
Rahul Gandhi, one of the main leaders of the opposition Congress party, urged the government to “listen to the voice of the country’s unemployed youth”.
Unemployment has long been a millstone around the neck of India’s economy, with unemployment figures at their worst since the 1970s even before the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on local commerce.
Modi’s government has touted the new military recruitment plan as a path to modernizing the armed forces with a younger and leaner body of soldiers while creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
Retired General Birender Dhanoa said India’s nearly 1.4million-strong army was “bloated” and needed reform, but questioned whether the new curriculum was the appropriate remedy.
“Four years is a bit short and it’s an exploitation,” he said. “We have to look at whether it works well for the armed forces as well.”