One dead in protests over India’s short-term military contracts
At least one person has been killed as youths in parts of India burned train carriages, blocked highways and attacked police with rocks, in a second day of demonstrations against a new short-term government recruitment policy for the military, police said.
The death occurred in Secundrabad in southern India, where nearly 500 protesters vastly outnumbered police as they rampaged through the railway station for more than an hour, police said.
Another 15 people were reportedly injured.
Protesters attacked police with rocks and police used batons and fired shots to disperse them. One protester was killed in the police firing, an officer said.
Television images showed people setting empty train carriages on fire and vandalising property belonging to railway authorities. They burned tyres and blocked rail tracks, disrupting train services in the region for several hours.
Under the new job programme announced by defence minister Rajnath Singh this week, the armed forces this year can recruit 46,000 men and women in the age group 17.5 to 21 but only for four years. Seventy-five percent of them will be compulsorily retired after four years with no pension benefits.
A full-time recruited soldier serves for more than 35 years.
The violence also hit eastern Bihar state where protesters set six train carriages on fire and damaged railway stations, including offices and electronic installations. The protesters also blocked highways for hours, said police officer SK Singhal.
Protesters threw rocks at the homes of governing Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Renu Devi and Sanay Jaiswal in Bettiah, a town in Bihar state, Mr Singhal said. No one was injured.
The large-scale protests caused the cancellation of 30 services with another 29 trains diverted to safer routes and 30 with passengers stranded at different places in Bihar state, said Virendra Kumar, a railway spokesman.
In northern Uttar Pradesh state, protesters threw rocks at buses in the city of Varanasi.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which is facing national elections in 2024, is under pressure to provide jobs as India’s economy recovers from the pandemic slump.
One idea behind short-term military recruitment is that those trained by the armed forces can later seek jobs with police or the private sector.
The government’s rationale also appears to save money by avoiding the pension burden by retiring them after four years. Pension payouts have averaged just under a quarter of India’s overall defence budget for years, leaving limited funds for the military’s modernisation, said Rahul Bedi, a military analyst.
With 1.4 million active personnel, India’s military is the world’s second-largest after China, and the third-largest spender.
Army recruitment had been halted for two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and thousands of hopefuls spent the time preparing to join up.
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