In the village of military dreams, second thoughts, insecurity on Agneepath
“The government is now in such power that either the bulldozer will run, this career will be bad. Amit Sirohi (37), head of Saidpur village in Bulandshahr, says, “Yeh sarkar bahubali hai, people will have to bow down, where almost every household’s children dream of joining the armed forces like their grandfathers, fathers and brothers.”
There are about 2,000 households in the village and at least 800 of these, Sirohi says, have someone who has served or is serving in the armed forces.
With the government announcing the Agneepath scheme for defense recruitment for personnel below the officer rank, violent protests broke out in many parts of the country. In Aligarh, where a police post and vehicle were torched, hundreds of protesters were booked and at least the operators of the Naval Coaching Center were arrested.
The protesters raised the issue of job insecurity and after 75% of them no pension would be given. According to the new plan, about 45,000 soldiers will be recruited annually, and only 25% of them will be allowed to continue under permanent commission for the next 15 years.
For 14-year-old Shiv Sirohi, whose grandfather and father have both served in the army, the new plan has brought a lot of uncertainty. “There was only one thing I always wanted to be, and that is a soldier. I never thought of another career. I run in the morning to increase stamina… The new plan, however, has shocked many people here. Even my parents are not sure if all this effort is worth putting in for just four years,” he says.
In this Jat-dominated village, families who have served for generations in the armed forces mostly live in bungalows. The rest live in pucca houses. There are two banks, an inter college and a degree college, five primary schools, a post office, a small hospital as well as a veterinary hospital. The villagers attribute this development to the armed forces.
In the middle of the village there is a martyr memorial in memory of all the soldiers of the area who died in action. A placard at the top of the memorial reads, “155 people from this village went to the great war of 1914-1919. Of these, 29 gave their lives.”
“We grew up in the culture. Every boy here wants to become a soldier. Now suddenly, we are having second thoughts,” says 17-year-old Ashish, the son of a daily wage labourer. “The army was supposed to be the final destination for me. I never thought that after that I would have to look for another job. Now, what will I get if I do not get selected in the 25% permanent commission quota? If I want to become a policeman or a guard after four years, why shouldn’t I do it at the very beginning?”
For the sons of laborers and landless farmers in the village, most of whom are from the Jatav community, insecurity is high. “The government is saying that whoever gets selected will get at least Rs 11 lakh after four years. Can I make a house with this? buy land? No. It is easy for zamindar farmers… what shall we do?” Says 21-year-old Harish Kumar, who has been preparing for recruitment for two years.
But not everyone is against the plan. Jasvir Sirohi, 43, sees this as a remedy for unemployment. Both his grandfather and great-grandfather were in the army and fought wars for the country. “There are no jobs there. No recruits in the army for two years… According to the plan, at least they’ll be able to come back with some money in hand and start a small business. It’s better than nothing He says, even as he admitted that after his father’s death, it was his grandfather’s pension that provided him. His 11-year-old son Mayank wants to become a soldier when he grows up.
Village elders admit that there is anger among the youth over the scheme, but the fear of being disqualified from applying for FIRs, bulldozers and even the armed forces meant that there was hardly any protest. “The youth are angry but even when their dreams are getting shattered, they cannot resist. BJP leaders have said that once the boys retire after four years, they can become guards. Will a boy who served the country for four years be happy to serve as a guard after four years? Getting selected in the army is also about pride, status…,” says a 45-year-old man, who retired from the army as a tradesman. His son is preparing for recruitment under the new scheme.