The protest against the Ministry of Railways’ recruitment process have been centred around Bihar and poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, which account for a bulk of the candidates who appeared for the common test for the Non Technical Popular Categories (NTPC) posts.
In Bihar, protesters torched four empty coaches of a stationary train in Gaya and blocked rail traffic between Gaya and Jehanabad on Wednesday. Protests were also held in Patna, Bhagalpur and Sasaram.
In UP, three policemen were suspended a day after a crackdown on a group of students who allegedly tried to stop a train in Prayagraj on Tuesday. A case has also been lodged against three named and 1,000 unidentified protesters for rioting and stone-throwing.
Common test a key issue
Protesters say the system of one screening test across five pay grades is designed to favour those with higher qualification. For instance, a graduate cannot be stopped from appearing for an exam where the minimum qualification is 10+2. Candidates have also criticised the marking system.
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Following the protest in Prayagraj, purported video clips of policemen entering the rooms of students by breaking down their doors, and beating them up were circulated on social media. Targeting the BJP government, both the Congress and SP tweeted about the alleged police action.
Prayagraj SSP Ajay Kumar said three policemen had been suspended and would face departmental action for “using unnecessary force”.
“On January 25, around 1,000 rioters gathered at the railway station. Police had received information that the railway track would be blocked, and a train engine set on fire. Police made preparations and reached the spot… The students were made to leave the place after being spoken to. Then some rioters among the students threw stones at police. After that, they went and hid in the lodges. The police team had gone there to look for them and rounded up several of them. Two prime suspects, identified as Pradeep Yadav and Mukesh Yadav, were arrested,” he said.
“You may have seen a video where some police officials are using unnecessary force. They have been identified, three of them have been suspended and will face strict action. On the other hand, the rioters who mingled with the students have been booked under 13 serious charges. Three have been named while around 1,000 are unidentified. Two have been arrested and are facing action. One other accused who spread rumours on social media and incited students has been identified as Rajendra Sachan, he will be arrested soon,” he said.
“It has come to light that Rajendra Sachan is associated with and funded by some outfits or parties. He played the main role. He indulged in some activities on social media and tweeted some things which were circulated among students. It was claimed that it would help their future if they attended the protest, and students got incited,” he said, adding that investigations were underway to find out “which party and who was funding them”.
The Indian Express spoke to some students who attended the protest. “There was a protest call… Around 1,000 people gathered, and a decision was taken to stop the train. When we moved ahead, police lathicharged us, and some protesters threw stones at policemen. There was tension, and the students dispersed. Then, police entered around 10-12 lodges and beat up students,” said Satyam Kushwaha, an MA student.
“They entered our rooms after breaking the doors. Innocent students were beaten up and abused,” said another student who did not want to be named.
When contacted, UP ADG (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar said: “It was excessive and we have taken action. Policemen have been suspended… There was no need for policemen to enter lodges and beat up students.”
Facing Opposition attack, the BJP went into damage control mode with Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya saying the incident was “unfortunate”. “The guilty policemen will face action. We appeal to students to be patient. The Opposition should not indulge in politics over this. Those people who hid among students and indulged in rioting will face action after an investigation. Every student is our family,” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, students have called a protest at Lucknow University on Thursday against the police action in Prayagraj.
In Bihar, where protests continued for the third day, a group of students gathered at the Gaya railway station on Wednesday morning and reportedly threw stones at policemen when asked to move away. They torched an empty coach of a stationary train. Two hours later, three more coaches of the same train were set on fire.
“Nobody was injured. We are trying to identify the troublemakers. We have deployed additional forces at the railway station and some other vital points. We are also trying to counsel students through media,” said Gaya SSP Aditya Kumar.
On Tuesday, an empty coach of a train was torched at Ara railway station.
Another group of students blocked movement of trains between Patna and Gaya via Jehanabad for nearly five hours. Similar protests were reported from Patna, Bhagalpur and Sasaram.
“We have identified some coaching institutions which provoked students to protest. We are also keeping a watch on some other coaching centres,” said Patna District Magistrate Chandrashekhar Singh.
“We have booked six coaching centres. We have arrested eight persons (including some officials of coaching centres) in this regard,” said Patna SSP Manavjit Singh Dhillon.
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