Young people in India persevere on 1,000-kilometre march to demand government jobs
Issued on: 29/07/2022 – 13:19Modified: 01/08/2022 – 10:59
After walking for more than 60 days and 900 kilometres, 200 young Indians are now at the gates of the capital, New Delhi. Their goal: a government contract in a branch of India’s paramilitary forces. Those marching say they passed the competitive exam to join the paramilitary four years earlier, but were never appointed to a position.
As of August 1, 200 young paramilitary hopefuls in India have been marching for 62 days. They set off from Nagpur, in central India, on June 1 and have already managed to cover more than 900 kilometres. They are headed to New Delhi to state their case to Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah.
For Indian youth plagued by high unemployment rates, competitive examinations for public sector positions represent real opportunities for job security and a stable income. In 2022, anger erupted after the government introduced reforms to some public sector exams. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been accused of trying to reduce opportunities in the civil service.
In late June, the government introduced a new recruitment process for the armed forces, known as “Agnipath”, to save money and make the sector more flexible. The move triggered violent demonstrations around India.
The Agnipath reform sets aside some positions in the paramilitary forces – like in the police or border security – for people who go through the recruitment scheme and serve several years in the military.
The students and young people marching from Nagpur, who say they are still waiting for their letters of appointment to the paramilitary, have strongly criticised the reform.
>> Read more on The Observers: Youth in India protest army recruitment scheme and ‘economic distress’
‘We are all still waiting for our letters of appointment so we can finally put on our uniforms and serve our country’
Among them is Kajal, a 24-year-old from West Bengal. Like her fellow marchers, she passed the SSC GD civil service exam in 2018. Those who pass the exam can apply for certain positions in the Indian army and navy or join the border police.
We came from all over India. We had all passed the written, physical and medical examinations. Out of 60,120 posts, they had issued appointment letters to 55,000 candidates and the remaining 4,800 seats remain vacant. We are all still waiting for our letters of appointment so we can finally put on our uniforms and serve our country.
We had protested in Delhi for one year, some of us have never returned home after that.
After protesting in New Delhi in January 2021, we demonstrated in Nagpur, where we went on a 72-day hunger strike. Since we still didn’t get what we asked for, we decided to walk from Nagpur to New Delhi (1,000 km) to show our determination, but also to raise awareness in the Indian public about our situation.
The students have been sharing their journey on Twitter with the hashtag #SSC_GD_2018, the name of the exam they took. They wear shirts with the name of the exam and proudly wave Indian flags.
ये इसी देश के युवा हैं जो लगातार 54 दिन से ‘पैदल’ चल रहे, हाथों में तिरंगा लिए 🇮🇳
इनपर फूलों की बारिश नहीं हो रही, क्योंकि नौकरी मांग रहे हैं.
नागपुर ———1068 किमी.———– दिल्ली pic.twitter.com/RmLWwc5kor
— Ranvijay Singh (@ranvijaylive) July 24, 2022
‘We were supported by some farmers’ and workers’ organisations and locals’
On social media and on the road, they have met up with many supporters of their cause. Pradeep, a 26-year-old from Madhya Pradesh, explains:
When we set off from Nagpur, we didn’t know what we were going to eat or drink to survive. But as we went along, we were supported by some farmers’ and workers’ organisations and locals. They helped us with food and water. It’s partly thanks to them that we were able to make it so close to New Delhi.
Along the way, monasteries, temples and theatres also opened their doors to the marchers, providing food and a place to rest. Police stations and municipalities also offered help on the journey.
सवाल मत पूछो
आवाज़ मत उठाओ
शांतिपूर्ण प्रदर्शन मत करो
नए भारत में हक मांगने पर होगी गिरफ़्तारी
युवाओं को बेरोज़गार बना कर, करोड़ों परिवारों की आस तोड़ कर, देश का भविष्य उजाड़ रही है ये तानाशाह सरकार। pic.twitter.com/7QKk8XnlMi
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) July 17, 2022
‘We have lost our mind, body and soul’
The group averages 30 kilometres per day, sometimes in heat approaching 40 degrees Celsius, as Kajal explains:
We have marched two or three consecutive days. Sometimes we don’t get water to drink, some days we beg for drops of water. We are totally harassed and mentally disturbed, we have lost our mind, body and soul.
There are problems with hygiene and food to eat. We eat whatever we can get. Sometimes we don’t get a single piece of food for a while. There are more problems for females, like periods.
On the way, several people in the group suffered from dehydration, fatigue or injuries. Some people were hospitalised, according to posts shared by members of the march.
‘We are also doing all this for our parents’
Our Observer and several of her colleagues with whom we spoke mentioned the importance of the march not only for themselves, but for their parents, who are in precarious economic situations.
At the same time, we also want to fulfil our parents’ needs. If we are able to join the paramilitary forces, our living standard will also improve. Our economic condition will improve considerably and we will be able to support our parents.
Kajal explained that a waiver was offered to some people who are outside of the age range of the examination (18 to 23), allowing them to reapply in 2022 or 2023. But the proposal hasn’t benefitted any of the students marching.
On August 1, the group was less than 100 kilometres from New Delhi. Once they reach the capital, they hope to secure a meeting with Shah, the home affairs minister.
Our only demand from day one is that we want to fill those 4,800 vacant posts. The candidates in this march should be given priority. We only want to die for our nation, our country, our flag, our people. If we are not able to join the paramilitary forces, then there will be no meaning to our life.