What A Job In The Armed Forces Means For India's Youth

The Agnipath scheme, a new recruitment plan for the armed forces, has left India's youth angry. BOOM spoke to some aspirants in Haryana.

Rewari, Haryana – Ajay Chawadi, 23, scrolled through his phone gallery to play a video of him doing push-ups in a stadium. The audience is heard cheering as his push-up number increases to 46… 47…

For the last three years, Chawadi has been studying, running at dawn and dusk, maintaining a diet chart and doing drills thrice a day – all in preparation to get into the Indian Army. He was confident until 14 June when the government, he said, "shattered all his dreams."

Also Read: Agnipath: Amid Violent Protests, Veterans Question New Recruitment Scheme

The Modi government's announcement of a new army recruitment scheme – Agnipath (path of fire) for young people, which aims to recruit people on a four-year contract— has led to violent protests. Roads were blocked with burning tyres, trains were set afire, railway tracks damaged and public properties vanadalised in the protests. Internet was shutdown and arrests made to control the situation.

The new recruitment scheme will retain only 25% of the 45,000 to 50,000 youth as permanent employees of the Indian armed forces.

Chawadi has dreamt of joining the armed forces since childhood. "I worked hard. I was counted as a better performer among my peers. But it no longer matters as I have crossed the age for qualification," he said.

The age limit to qualify for the 'Agnipath' scheme is 23. And that has come as a huge disappointment for hundreds of young men like Chawadi who were expecting the government to relax the age criteria as the recruitment in the non-officer ranks was paused for two years due to the pandemic.

Soon after the government made an announcement of the Agnipath scheme last week, protests began in Rajasthan, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to demand a roll back of the policy.

Hundreds of trains were cancelled. The Indian Railways in Bihar decided to run trains only during night in order to avoid any attack on passengers from the angry mob.

BOOM spoke to young men in Haryana who have been preparing to join the armed forces to understand what a job in the armed forces means for them and why they are angry about the 'Agnipath' scheme.

A Job In The Army Means Social Status

Young men from India's rural areas are drawn to joining the army to get job security and a decent income. It also gives them the 'social status' that no other jobs do.

"There is an army craze in our village because selection in the army helps in getting good marriage proposals," said 19-year-old Navneet.

Over 30 percent of the youth in Navneet's village Gokalgarh in Haryana serve the Indian army, setting a precedent for youngsters like him to acquire the same job. "In every house, you'll find a boy who aspires to join the army," he said.

The government's new recruitment plan has filled the 19-year-old with fears of rejection. "What will we do after serving four years in the army? If I fail to get selected among the 25% I will turn into a joke for people," said Navneet.

Scores of young aspirants like Chawadi and Navneet believe that the short-term contractual job that will also do away with pension will diminish the social prestige that comes with the armed services, making it less attractive as a job avenue.

Also Read: Fake Defence Ministry Letter On Agnipath Scheme Goes Viral

"Who will risk their life for four years? In order to get away from the question of job opportunities, the government is making a fool of us," Navneet said.

Chawadi said that getting into the army is not just about a mere job, but for many youngsters it is an "honor".

"We have been hearing stories of warriors from elders since childhood. The army has been presented as saviors in films and TV shows. These have an impact on our minds," said Chawadi.

Why The Anger Against Agnipath Scheme?

Although the recruitment for non-ranking officers in the army was paused for two years, the Indian Air Force in 2021 had invited job applications.

Twenty-year-old Nitin appeared in the Air Force Common Admission Test (AFCAT) in July 2021. The results are yet to be declared. With the announcement of the Agnipath scheme, Nitin believes that he has very little chance of getting a permanent job after four years. "Only those will be selected in 25% who will give money (bribe) for the job. There will be corruption in this system of entries," he fears.

Also Read: Old News Report Of Army Aspirant's Suicide Falsely Linked to Agnipath Scheme

"They (government) did not declare our previous results and now we are being told that new exams will be conducted," he said.

A teacher in one of the coaching academies in Rewari told BOOM that the Agnipath scheme is "ill-advised."

"A candidate who does not make it to the final recruitment after four years of serving may cause damage. I am not supporting violence but the reaction is natural. The least the government can do is to extend the service tenure and increase the percentage in final selection," he told BOOM wishing anonymity.

In the old recruitment system, boys under the age of 21, who passed the entrance tests were selected for a minimum of 15 years' service and had a regular pension post that. The government says the new scheme will reduce the budget for pensions and salary bills, and help the army to get younger profiles. The saved money, the government says, would help in improving the technology.

In a tweet, Defence minister Rajnath Singh said, "Agnipath … is a truly transformative reform which will enhance the combat potential of the armed forces, with a younger profile and technologically adept soldiers."

Speaking during the announcement in Delhi on Tuesday, Lt Gen Anil Puri said the scheme would instill confidence and skills. After four years with the army, he said, an Agnipath recruit would have a unique CV to help them "stand out in the crowd".

The Agnipath policy met with wide criticism from experts, including army veterans. Major General Birender Dhanoa tweeted, "Two serious recommendations to the just-announced recruitment policy for the armed forces: Increase the service period of new recruits to a minimum of seven years. Make the retention of those keen to serve longer at least 50 percent."

Experts and critics believe that the short-term hiring will sap the fighting spirit of the troops and make them risk-averse. The anger and resentment that the 75% droputs may have after four years of service, they fear, can lead to violence.

One of the criticisms of Agniveer has been it's four-year contract rule. With only 25% of the candidates being retained after four years, experts fear it'll have an impact on society since there will be an influx of military-trained young men in the society. "During India's partition in 1947, districts with larger concentrations of combat veterans from the second world war saw them heavily involved in campaigns to persuade members of other religious communities to leave, in organising mass flights of their own community in areas where they were outnumbered, and in encouraging co-religionists to move into a district where their dominant position seemed tenuous," senior journalist Sushant Singh wrote in an analysis in Al Jazeera.

"This Agnipath scheme has set my life, country, and scores of youth like me on fire. It has shattered our dreams," Chawadi, the army job aspirant, said.

Updated On: 2022-06-30T08:05:00+05:30
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