Bihar's Agnipath apprehensions: Fear of deep socioeconomic impact, marriage concerns for retirees
Agnipath scheme has triggered apprehensions of implications among many in Bihar who fear it would dim the marriage prospects of young retired Agniveer and diminish economic, social returns of the job
The Agnipath defence recruitment scheme has triggered apprehensions of far-reaching implications among many in Bihar who fear it would dim the marriage prospects of a young retired Agniveer and diminish the economic and social returns of an army job.
The apprehensions over the scheme, they said, are mainly triggered by the fact that it proposes to recruit youths on a contractual basis and retire most of them after four years of service without a pension or other social security benefits which came with the job.
Twenty-year-old Roushan Singh of Ramchua village in Banka district who has been preparing for an army job for three years says he did not like the radical changes made in the defence recruitment model
"But I have no option," he told PTI over phone from his village. "My parents do not have the wherewithal to send me to cities for studies and prepare for other competitive exams."
He said one can prepare for the job in the armed forces even with limited means. "They test you for running and other physical exercises which one can prepare for at the village ground."
Still preparing for a job, the thought of a marriage has not crossed Singh's mind but when asked if he would be comfortable with marrying his sister, who is elder to him, to an Agniveer, he offered no reply, just a long silence over the phone!
The agitation against the Agnipath scheme erupted in Bihar the day after it was announced on June 14 by the government.
While the protests spread quickly to most of north India and subsequently to the southern regions also, nowhere were they more intense than in Bihar where stories of arson and vandalism moved from one violent dateline to another -- from Patna to Arrah and Buxar to Jehanabad and Sasaram to Taregana.
Army aspirants stormed railway stations, burned down train coaches, attacked ruling BJP offices and set buses and cars ablaze.
The state government ordered Internet shutdown in one-third of the state and the railways suspended services for two days. The Centre quickly made a few concessions but the agitation continued for four days.
Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) Liberation leader Kunal tried to explain why the protests were so strong in Bihar -- a state where unemployment rate (13.3 per cent, according to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) is much higher than the national average (8 per cent), and where the majority of society still craves a government job for their son and son-in-law.
"There was a time when people mostly from upper castes and the Bhojpuri belt districts of Bhojpur and Chhapra used to go to the armed forces," Kunal said.
"That has changed now," he added.
"Youths from every caste and region join the forces now. And that is why you witnessed such a huge social support for the protests against the scheme and for the two bandhs organised against it - Bihar bandh on June 18 and Bharat bandh on June 20)," he said.
Kunal said small and middle income farmers would be the most affected group by this scheme as they can't afford to send their children to big cities and education institutions for preparing for competitive examinations.
He also said the youth recruited under this scheme would hardly attract marriage proposals. "Why would anybody marry his daughter or sister to a failed and rejected soldier, and with no pension and social security? This scheme will have very deep social and economic impact in the state."
Sheenu, 21, from Banka district has been preparing for the armed forces since 2015.
"If I tell you honestly they have not done the right thing," he said about the scheme.
"The respect that an army job evoked has been lost."
He said he has seen in his own village how just one army job pulled families out of their generations of poverty.
"An armed forces job earlier meant 'life set ho gai (the persons is now settled in life). Not only the person, but also his kids and their kids. Meaning, their generations to come would benefit from just one army job. That will not be possible now," he said.
Sheenu said the scheme does not sit comfortably with the state's other social realities as well.
"It will effectuate a new social normal. Earlier women's family used to look for a groom with a permanent job in the armed forces. Now, they would get grooms who are already army-retired.
"And not everybody who becomes an Agniveer will have the talent to take another job after four years. Nobody would like to dump their sister in a ditch," he said.
Thirty-eight-year-old Ranjit Kumar Singh, a retired armyman who now runs an academy in Bhagalpur to prepare youths for defence services, said the scheme indeed has some "positive" aspects, but added that his students are not are convinced about it.
He said earlier he used to have around 150 students in his hostel but it has come down drastically.
"Children now need to be motivated. Their morale is down. I need to counsel them a lot for joining the training. I tell them they have multiple employment opportunities even after they retire at the end of four years," he said.