Anil Sakhare belongs to Janapur in Chandur Bajar tehsil of Amravati district. With Rs 1,800 in his pocket, that he managed to save by doing odd jobs at construction sites in Amravati city, he has been camping in the city since January 22. The money that he brought with him is not meant for spending, but to save. He says he has ‘kept this money for emergency’. For the last 10 days in Pune, he eats at ‘langar’ in gurudwara, sleeps on footpath, uses public toilet and has taken bath only thrice in the last 10 days at Pune railway station. Anil is in the city to attend medical fitness test for army recruitment. When asked why is he taking all this pain, he has a simple reply: “I don’t have money to pay for getting any other job.” Anil is not alone here. Some 400 odd candidates in their late teens and early twenties from Akola, Amravati, Nagpur, Chandrapur, Yavatmal, Wardha, Gondiya and some from as far as UP, Gujarat, Karnataka are in the city for last 10 days, some for more than 10 days. All of them are waiting for their turns to undergo medical fitness test for army recruitment at the command hospital here.
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With just Rs 1,500-2,000 in their pockets, they have been struggling to ‘stay’ in the city. They spend nights on the pavements in front of command hospital or at the gurudwara behind Bishop school while some of them have taken ‘shelter’ on Wanowrie road.
Early in the morning, they attend to nature’s call at open grounds on Wanowrie road, some use public toilets wherever possible, some also reach as far as railway station and again return to command hospital and wait in queues for their turn to be examined by a medical board. From the day they arrived in the city, breakfast has become a luxury for them. A tea is shared between two, that too not every day.
Not all of them have the tests every day. The day is busy for those who are taken inside the hospital for medical tests.
For the rest of them, it is yet another day to wait for their turn. As the day progresses, finding food becomes a major task as buying it is not an option for them. Those who do not have tests gather around Gurudwara Nanak Darbar in Camp area at around 11.30 am.
The ‘langar’ at this gurudwara is their only source of lunch. Throughout the day, they wander helplessly in and around Race Course area. Their eyes at multiple army posts in this locality, filled with dreams of landing a job in one of them some day. Some of the armymen on gate duty at these posts talk with them for a while, others just whisk them away.
As the evening sets in, they can be seen sitting in groups in the courtyard of the gurudwara. At 8 pm, the dinner is served at the langar. After the dinner, it is another night at the pavement, a wait for another day.
Spending nights on the pavements has it’s own tales. Along with the risk of speeding vehicles, they are also concerned about safe upkeep of their much important documents. Sunil Kakade from Gondiya was seen hiding his three new stone-grey Rs 500 notes in his socks while going to sleep. With his 3-acre farm land, his father could afford to give him money, but he opts not to spend them easily.
When asked about the next course of action if not selected, Rahul Mali from Balapur of Akola district says, “We don’t have anything else to do. We will keep trying our luck again and again.” Rahul is the son of a landless labourer, pursuing his B.Com second year at Shivaji college, Akola. He works at a grain store in Akola to make ends meet. He came to Pune on January 24 with Rs 1,900 in his pocket.
Ramesh Patel is a tribal student belonging to far off Dharani tehsil of Amravati. He lives in a small hamlet in the interiors of Melghat tiger reserve. His trip is paid for by a local school teacher. He is in Pune for a test which was to be held on January 27. He has not been taken inside as yet.
The candidates here, some of them come from farming families and some from landless farm labourers. No third category of family background was seen. They have also enrolled themselves in their respective local colleges and are pursuing B.A. or B.Com. While doing their colleges, they also work in their farms or do some menial jobs to fulfil their dream of a job in the Indian Army.
“We don’t take admission in B.Sc courses as those require attendance in college,” said Vinit Parkhe from Yavatmal. Vinit doubles up as farm labour at his own rain-fed farm in Aarni tehsil of Yavatmal district.
Randhir Kumar is from a village in Barauni district of Uttar Pradesh. As per the schedule, he first reported at Panaji, Goa on December 25. He was redirected to command hospital Pune on January 12. Until now, he has adjusted himself with the cycle of langar food – public toilets – pavement sleeping.
“Saab, abhi hamare kagjaat aana baaki hai…(My papers are yet to reach….),” says the young boy of 20 something, in a choked voice, visibly tired and disturbed.
A band of around 14 boys from Dharwad in Karnataka had to return after a wait for six days for the same reason.
All the candidates unanimously said that the army recruitment process is highly transparent, completely fair and they trust it fully. But there are procedural issues. Most of them are sent back only because the hospital is yet to receive their documents from Army Recruitment Office (ARO).
None of them had anyone to blame at all, saying that, “All this ‘hardwork’ will only help us land a good job.”
Gurudwara: A silent supporter of army recruitment all over the country
When this reporter visited Gurudwara Nanak Darbar their staff politely declined to be quoted or pictured. They all said that this work is a God’s duty for them and they do it with all the faith. “We would never like to make fuss about this pious work,” a senior person said.
He also shared that wherever in the country the army recruitment process is on, the nearby gurudwaras have played a supportive role by providing food to the needy candidates.
Every evening before preparing the food, a kitchen staff visits the crowds sitting outside, takes judgement of the number and prepares food accordingly. Some of the candidates offer to volunteer for food distribution. All the expenses are borne out of donations only. The candidates said they receive very respectful treatment here.