At least one person has died and more than a dozen were injured as protests against a new short-term government recruitment policy for the military enter India’s third day.
The death was reported Friday by southern Telangana state – a sign that protests were spreading – where police opened fire as a crowd gathered at the Secunderabad train station and set train carriages on fire. It is unclear whether the man died during the police fire.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced this week a review of the recruitment process for the armed forces of 1.38 million people, with the aim of bringing in more people on short four-year contracts to lower the average age of the personal.
But many potential recruits object, saying they should be allowed to serve for more than four years. Opposition parties and some members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Modi’s government say the system will lead to higher unemployment in a country struggling with unemployment.
Police said they used batons and tear gas to disperse protesters in several states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan after crowds took to the streets, blocked tracks and roads, and damaged vehicles and government buildings.
Railway authorities said the movement of nearly 200 trains was affected by the cancellation of dozens of passenger train services and the deployment of additional police at train stations to prevent further destruction, according to media reports.
In Gurugram, a satellite city of India’s capital that houses the offices of several multinationals, authorities have banned the gathering of more than four people in one place in an attempt to prevent demonstrations.
“This order will go into effect immediately,” the Gurugram administration said in a notice, a copy of which was posted on social media by the district information department.
Although there were no reports of protests in Gurugram, some protesters were outside in the neighboring district of Palwal on Thursday.
Some of the world’s leading companies have offices in Gurugram, including Microsoft, Meta, and Google. It is also home to manufacturing plants of major Indian companies such as Maruti Suzuki.
In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, protests broke out in 14 districts and police fired into the air to repel the crowd throwing stones, senior police officer Prashant Kumar said.
In neighboring Bihar, the most affected state, protesters set train carriages on fire at at least two stations and disrupted train services, police said. Nearly 25,000 police officers were deployed and more than 100 people arrested in the eastern state, officials said.
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 sprawling economic growth in recent decades.
In January, crowds of outraged job applicants in Bihar set fire to rail cars, blocked railway tracks and burned Modi’s effigies following allegations that entrance exams for the government-run railway sector had been unfairly conducted.
In a report from New Delhi, Pavni Mittal of Al Jazeera said that there is “immense anger” among the people and that “the situation is out of control”.
“Violent protests are sweeping the country. Trains are set on fire, stations are vandalized, roads are blocked, “she said.
‘Path of Fire’
Mittal said the protesters’ request is “simple: they want the government to cancel the new army recruitment policy”, called “Agnipath” or fire route in Hindi.
The policy will bring men and women between the ages of 17 and a half to 21 for a four-year term in unofficial ranks, with only a quarter retained for longer periods. Seventy-five percent of them will compulsorily retire after four years without retirement benefits.
Soldiers were previously recruited by the Army, Navy and Air Force separately and typically serve for up to 17 years, for the lowest grades.
The government also announced on Friday a one-time extension of the maximum age of entry into the program to 23 as hiring had been frozen for the past 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 defense ministry said in a statement.
The military aims to recruit some 46,000 people with the new system this year, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh announced earlier this week.
Singh defended the program, stating that its goal is “to strengthen the security of the country”. With nearly 1.4 million active employees, the Indian military is the second largest in the world after China and the third largest spendthrift.
Modi, facing national elections in 2024, is under pressure to provide jobs as India’s economy recovers from the pandemic crisis. One idea behind short-term military recruitment is that those who have been trained by the military can later seek work with the police or the private sector.
The government has been criticized by some retired soldiers, opposition leaders and security analysts.
In an analysis for Al Jazeera on Thursday, security expert Sushant Singh said the new army recruitment plan was announced without any discussion in parliament and could have “devastating consequences”.
“More than half of the Indian government’s defense spending of $ 70.6 billion goes to pensions and salaries for Indian military personnel. It was increasing year by year and Modi’s government was unable to initiate substantial reform within the existing structure, ”Singh wrote. “So on Tuesday the Indian government decided to demolish the structure itself.”
According to Singh, the proposal will also have a direct impact on Indian society, which has seen a spike in hate speech and attacks on Muslims and other minorities by right-wing Hindu groups in India since Modi came to power in India. 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 disorganized,” Singh wrote.
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 milestone around the neck of the Indian economy, with unemployment figures at the worst since the 1970s even before the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the economy.
Modi’s government launched the new military recruiting plan as a path to modernize the military with a younger, leaner corps of soldiers, while also creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Ghazala Wahab, executive director of Force magazine, said the problem with the new army recruiting scheme is that it “wasn’t thought of at all.”
“Most of the decisions this government has made since it came to power have been executive decisions made without any debate,” he said.