1 dead in protests over India’s military recruitment policy
NEW DELHI (AP) — At least one person was killed Friday as angry young people in parts of India burned train coaches, blocked highways and attacked police with rocks in a second day of violent demonstrations against a new short-term government recruitment policy for the military, police said.
The death occurred in Secundrabad in southern India, where vastly outnumbered police used batons and fired shots at about 500 protesters who rampaged at a railroad station for more than an hour, police said. Fifteen people were reportedly injured.
The protesters attacked police with rocks, an officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
Television images showed people setting empty train coaches on fire and vandalizing railroad property. They burned tires and blocked train tracks, disrupting train service in the region for several hours.
Under a new job program announced this week by Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, the armed forces this year can recruit 46,000 men and women between the ages of 17 1/2 and 21, but only for four years. Of the total, 75% must retire after four years with no pension benefits.
Currently, commissioned officers serve an average of 30 years and other personnel 17 years.
Violence also hit eastern Bihar state, where protesters set six train coaches on fire and damaged railroad stations, including offices and electronic installations. Protesters also blocked highways for hours, police officer S.K. Singhal said.
Protesters threw rocks at the homes of governing Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Renu Devi and Sanay Jaiswal in Bettiah, a town in Bihar state, Singhal said. No one was injured.
The protests caused the cancellation of 30 trains, while 29 other trains were diverted to safer routes and 30 trains with passengers were left stranded at different places in Bihar state, railroad spokesperson Virendra Kumar said.
In northern Uttar Pradesh state, protesters threw rocks at buses in the city of Varanasi.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which faces national elections in 2024, is under pressure to provide jobs as India’s economy recovers from a pandemic slump. One idea behind the short-term military recruitment is that those trained by the armed forces can later seek jobs with police or the private sector.
The government’s rationale also appears to be to save money by avoiding pension burdens by retiring soldiers after four years. Pension pay-outs have averaged just under a quarter of India’s overall defense budget for years, leaving limited funds for the military’s modernization, military analyst Rahul Bedi said in a blog post.
With 1.4 million active personnel, India’s military is the world’s second-largest after China, and the third-largest in terms of total defense spending.
Military jobs are attractive because they provide better pay and benefits than many other types of employment.
Army recruitment has been halted for the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and thousands of aspirants spent the time preparing themselves to join the military.
“Now we are being told that we will have the job for only four years,” one protester said.
Defense Minister Singh extended the age limit by two years on Thursday as a one-time exception, noting there was no military recruitment for two years.
V.P. Malik, a retired Indian army chief, said the young people’s disappointment was understandable.
“The government and the armed forces have to do more work on their outreach to justify and explain the scheme to the youth,” he said in an interview with The Times of India newspaper.
Associated Press writer Indrajit Singh in Patna, India, contributed to this report.