“Sarkaar ab itni sakht hai ki ya toh bulldozer chalega, ya career kharab hoga. Ye sarkaar baahubali hai, logon ko jhukna hi padega,” says Amit Sirohi (37), the pradhan of Bulandshahr’s Saidpur village, where children in almost every home dream of joining the armed forces, just like their grandfathers, fathers and brothers.
The village has around 2,000 households and in at least 800 of these, Sirohi says, there is someone who has served or is serving in the armed forces.
With the government announcing the Agnipath scheme for defence recruitment for personnel below the officer rank, violent protests erupted in several parts of the country. In Aligarh, where a police outpost and vehicle were torched, hundreds of protesters were booked and at least nine Army coaching centre operators were arrested.
The protesters raised issues of job insecurity and no pension after 75% of them will be retired. According to the new scheme, around 45,000 soldiers will be recruited annually, and only 25% of them will be allowed to continue for another 15 years under permanent commission.
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For 14-year-old Shiva Sirohi, whose grandfather and father have both served in the Army, the new scheme has brought forth a lot of uncertainty. “There was only one thing I always wanted to be, and that is being a fauji. I never thought of another career. I run in the morning to build stamina… The new scheme, however, has shaken a lot of people here. Even my parents are not sure if all this effort is worth it for just four years,” he says.
In this Jat-dominated village, families who have had several generations serve in the armed forces mostly live in bungalows. The others live in permanent 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 give credit to the armed forces for this development.
In the middle of the village is a Shaheed Smarak in memory of all the soldiers from the area who died in action. A plank on the top of the memorial reads, “From this village, 155 men went to the Great War 1914-1919. Of these, 29 gave up their lives.”
“We have grown up in the culture. Here every boy wants to be a soldier. Now suddenly, we are having second thoughts,” says 17-year-old Ashish, the son of a daily wage worker. “Army was supposed to be the final destination for me. I never thought that I would have to look for another job after that. Now, what will I get if I don’t get selected in the 25% permanent commission quota? If I have to become a policeman or a guard after four years, why should I not do that at the very outset?”
For the sons of labourers and landless farmers in the village, most of who belong to the Jatav community, the insecurity is higher. “The government is saying that anyone who gets selected will get at least Rs 11 lakh after four years. Can I build a house with that much? Buy land? No. It is easier for landed farmers… What will we do?” says Harish Kumar, 21, who has been preparing for recruitment for two years now.
But not everyone is against the scheme. Jasvir Sirohi, 43, sees it as a remedy for joblessness. His grandfather and great grandfather were both in the Army and fought wars for the country. “There are no jobs out there. For two years, there has been no Army recruitment… As per the scheme, at least they will be able to come back with some money in hand and can start a small business. It is better than nothing,” he says, even as he acknowledged that after his father’s death, it was his grandfather’s pension that provided for them. His 11-year-old son Mayank wants to be a soldier when he grows up.
Village elders acknowledge that there is anger among the youth over the scheme, but the fear of FIRs, bulldozers and disqualification from even applying for the armed forces has meant that there have been hardly any protests. “The youth are angry but they cannot protest even when their dreams are being shattered. BJP leaders have said that once the boys retire after four years, they can become guards. Will a boy who has served the country for four years be happy serving as a guard after four years. Being selected in the Army is also about pride, rutba… ,” says a 45-year-old who retired as a tradesman from Army. His son is preparing for recruitment under the new scheme.
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