'I Need To Survive': The Desperation Of Bihar's Railway Job Aspirants

Thousands of students took to the streets of Bihar to protest against alleged irregularities in the Railway's job examination. Who are they?

Bihar: For the last 10 years, Rupesh Kumar has been preparing to find a job- in the Indian Railways. Originally from Nalanda's Biharsharif, Rupesh is now 30 years old.

Eight years ago despite passing the Group D examination of railways, Rupesh didn't get a job. He was found to be unfit in the medical examination. Three years later, he missed another shot at his dream job - he was late for the loco pilot examination.

"The exam centre was in Solapur in Maharashtra. I started preparing food to eat on the way and reached the station hurriedly but by then the train had left. I didn't have enough money to take a plane to Solapur," he told BOOM.

Rupesh had high hopes, of cracking the exam for the Railways job that was held in April-June 2020. But, he believes he was not picked because the selection process was 'too complicated'.

The alleged complicated selection process has left thousands of railway job aspirants anxious and disappointed, which turned into violent protests. In the last week of January, railway job aspirants of Bihar held widespread protests over-complicated selection in Railways' Non-Technical Popular Categories (NTPC) exams.

The candidates are opposing the railways' decision to hold the exam in two stages, claiming the second stage for final selection is tantamount to "cheating" those who appeared and cleared the first stage of the railways' NTPC for the computer-based test released on January 15.

The protest first started on January 24 when around 300-400 aspirants went to the Rajendra Nagar railway station in Patna and stalled the train services for a few hours. This was followed by another protest, organized at Arrah railway station. In the next few days protests spread like wildfire and reached Uttar Pradesh where police entered the boys' hostels and beat up aspirants.

In Bihar, at least two empty trains' bogies were set on fire and a few other trains were stoned.

The Railway Recruitment Board had conducted exams for 35,281 posts for five types of jobs including train assistant, timekeeper, junior clerk and guard. Around 1.25 crores candidates had applied for these posts. The railways had conducted Computer Based Test-1 (CTBT-1) for these posts; the exam paper was the same for all.

The railways then claimed to have selected around 7 lakhs candidates for these posts but since there are five types of jobs and candidates had selected all the types in their forms, aspirants claimed that many candidates were selected for train assistant as well as timekeeper and junior clerk. So, the actual number of candidates selected, the job aspirants say, were 3.84 lakhs only.

So, they hit the road and registered the biggest protest in recent years without any prior planning and without any leadership. Last month, the railways had to suspend the exams due to the protests and the railways' ministry was forced to form a committee to look after the matter.

The committee has said it will "notify soon" on the report that was scheduled to be submitted on March 4.

But the question is, why did Bihar witness this sudden outburst from the youth?

BOOM spent a few days at the coaching hub of Patna, the capital city of Bihar, met half a dozen government job aspirants, teachers who run coaching centres, and experts to get some answers.

Chasing Dreams From A Tiny Room

At Khajanchi road in Patna, a serpentine lane opens to a congested locality. A dark staircase leads to the fourth floor with five rooms. Each room is six feet wide and nine feet long in size. The room has two single bed-sized wooden chowki. The gap between the two beds is around one and a half feet. The space is so squeezed that only one person can walk at a time. The rent for one bed is Rs 1600 per month.

One corner of the room has been converted into a kitchen, where some utensils and plastic bins are kept. Another corner has books on different subjects. Each room has two students each, and the floor has 10— between 24 and 35 years of age- all of them are aspirants for railway jobs.

This room has been home for Rupesh for the last 10 years.

In 2014, Rupesh passed the Group D examination of railways, but could not get a job as he was found unfit in medical examination. In 2015, He could not take part in the loco pilot examination as he was late in reaching the railway station.

After trying for a decade, At 30, Rupesh has another five years to get his dream job.

Hemant Kumar, 27, holds a degree in a BTech (bachelor in technology), but he has also filled the form for Group D job of Railways —one of the low-rung jobs in railways.

"I have been preparing for a government job for five years, but with no luck. My name has not appeared in the merit list in NTPC. I am hopeful that my name will be included when the updated results come out in March as promised by the railway," said Hemant.

In Patna, lakhs of such aspirants are preparing for government jobs — all of them are largely uncertain of getting one though.

Coaching Centres Selling Dreams

With a huge number of government job aspirants coming to Patna, coaching centres have mushroomed in the last two decades.

The Bhikhana pahari, coaching hub of old Patna is littered with hoardings of such coaching centres and each has its own tempting promise.

There are a bunch of colourful posters that don the streets and outside these centres. Josh aur junoon ka Naam hai sarkari naukri, der kyu? ( Josh and passion is the name of a government job, why late?), Naukri sarkari, hai ab tumhari ( The government job is now yours), Sapno ke sath aaiye, safalta ke sath jaaiye (Come with dreams, go with success) —They summarise the highly desired government jobs among the youths of Bihar.

There are around 1200 coaching centres where not less than 2.5 lakhs aspirants are enrolled, said Guru Rahman. For 25 years now, he has been preparing aspirants for government jobs in Patna.

A teacher taking an online class at a coaching centre in Patna. Photo: Umesh Kumar Ray

Three decades ago, a few teachers of Patna University had started coaching centres for government job preparation. Teachers were hired, too, for the initiative. Guru Rahman was among these teachers. Later, the government didn't allow officers to operate coaching centres; so they shut.

So, Rahman, along with some teachers, started their own coaching classes. "In the coming years, mass hysteria started for government jobs, and this created huge market for those classes," Rahman said.

The Financial Struggles Behind The Dream Chase

Almost all the youths preparing for government jobs who BOOM spoke to said they are not actually "enthusiastic" about these jobs. Many of them admitted that it was not their own dreams but they were simply chasing their families' dreams.

Rupesh Kumar wanted to become an engineer. "I did not have enough money to study engineering. But my parents wanted me to join a government job, so I compromised on my dreams and started preparing for it."

Sumit Singh, originally from Buxar, has been living in Patna for the last five years, preparing for a government job. He shares a tiny room with another government job aspirant. But his dream was never a government job. "I wanted to go to IIT (Indian Institute of Technology). I had appeared in the IIT entrance exam after my board exams. I had a good rank as well, but there was constant pressure from the family that I should do a government job. That's why I came here," Sumit said.

For most of these aspirants, any government job will do.

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Sumit had prepared for the Airforce and Navy, but he did not get a job in either of them. He started preparing for other jobs when he crossed 24, the maximum age limit for the exams.

Sumit is a graduate in Physics and has also done B.Ed, CTET (central teachers eligibility test), STET (state teachers eligibility test) till now. Last year, he appeared in the railway's NTPC examination and also filled out the form for a Group D job of the railway.

"My grandfather was in the Bihar police, but my father could not get a government job. So he wants me to, and that's why I am preparing for it," said Sumit.

With barely any financial backing from their families, most of them are forced to work part-time while preparing for their entrance exams. "When we go back to our village, we bring back rice and flour to suffice us for 2-3 months," one of the railway job aspirants said.

There are around 1200 coaching centres in Patna where not less than 2.5 lakhs aspirants are enrolled. Photo: Umesh Kumar Ray

A teacher at a coaching centre in Bhikhna Pahari, Roshan Anand, said that more than 80 percent of the 5000 candidates who are enrolled in the coaching centre are from farming families. "Most of them are small and marginal farmers," he added.

To make up for the expenses, 30-year-old Birendra Kumar, a commerce graduate, works in a book shop. He gets a salary of Rs 4,000, out of which he spends Rs 1,600 on room rent and the rest goes in food and tuition fee at the coaching centre.

Birendra said that he tries to keep his expenses to a minimum so his family is not burdened by the financial pressure. "The hard work seems to go in vain with the way results keep getting messed up and exams get stuck," he said.

For the last six years, Birendra has been hoping to get a job in the railways. "I was confident that I will," he said, adding that he will give it a shot just one last time. "If I don't get a job in one year, I will do whatever work I get to survive," he said.

Sumit Singh, who has been preparing for the job exams for five years now, offers part-time tuition classes to manage his expenses. He earns Rs 2,500 every month, his father sends him another Rs 2,500. Sumit's family has already spent Rs 3 lakh and yet he hasn't found a government job. "Every exam for government jobs is either delayed or the matter gets entangled in the court, it only adds to the frustration," Sumit said.

Why Is There A Wild Rush For Govt Jobs?

While Patna was the first city in Bihar that showed the dreams for government jobs through their coaching centres, small towns like Darbhanga and Samastipur have followed.

Roshan Anand, a teacher at one such coaching centre, said that the difference between a government and a private job is the respect that one gets. "Those who do government jobs get respect, those who do private jobs do not get. This is the reason why parents want their children to get a government job, even if it is a Group D job," he said.

Guru Rahman agreed to his views. "In our society, group D government employees with around Rs 25,000 salary gets more respect and social weightage than someone who gets Rs 1,00,000 salary as a private company employee," he said.

Roshan added that government jobs for a lot of these families mean securing a better life for their next generation as it is considered to be more stable compared to the private jobs where there's an uncertainty of layoffs.

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While the teachers express what the societal ideas are with a government job, there's also another challenge that pushes most youths in Bihar to keep attempting their luck at government jobs. Bihar barely has any big private companies- and therefore barely any jobs.

"There is no industry in Bihar where youths can explore career options," a Patna-based economist DM Diwakar told BOOM.

The economist said despite the Bihar government organising several investor summits no investors are interested in investing in Bihar as the state comes with a big baggage of 'law and order issues'.

"Government jobs in Bihar have dried up since the nineties. In this situation, youths are forced to either prepare for government jobs or migrate," he said.

Bihar's High Unemployment Rate

In April 2020, the unemployment rate in Bihar was 46.6%, around double compared to the national rate, according to a survey conducted by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).

Bihar public service commission (BPSC) advertised for only 6683 posts in different departments between the financial year 2017-18 and 2019-20. For technical posts, BTSC advertised for just 15736 posts between 2018-19 to 2019-20, Bihar economic survey for 2020-2021 noted. In Bihar, only 9.7 percent males was in regular/salaried jobs, which was the lowest among all the states. The reason for this high level of unemployment in Bihar, according to the economy survey is: Employment opportunities in the formal sector with certain levels of job security and social security were low.

In the last five years, vacancies have come out for only one lakh posts of inspector, Police, BPSC and teachers in Bihar, said Roshan Anand.

The shrinking job opportunities coupled with the delayed recruitment process have now made the desperate youth take to the streets to protest.

"We don't have much expectations from the government. We just want the government to publish a calendar on government jobs and whenever vacancies come up, they should notify that to us," said one of the aspirants of a job in the railways. Another one added, "They must complete all processes within a fixed time-frame. That's all we want."

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Updated On: 2022-03-13T12:19:33+05:30
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