It’s alarm bell for the government as polarisation tactics won’t work 

By Abdul Bari Masoud

While the country was celebrating the Republic Day on January 26, showcasing its military might to the world, the first massive protest against ever burgeoning unemployment erupted across the NDA-ruled state of Bihar. Thousands of students in Bihar’s streets vented their rage on public property and set fire to trains in protest against alleged irregularities in the Railway Recruitment Board’s examination process.

On one hand, people were sharing never-seen-before footage of the Rafale cockpit from the Republic Day fly-past held in the national capital, while on the other, images of a burning train and police-student clashes were going viral.

Widespread violence erupted in Bihar as a result of the protests, causing railway services to be disrupted across the state. The Railways had to abandon its tests after a train caught fire, injuring many people.

These frightful visuals are the first spontaneous protest against ever-increasing joblessness in the country since the BJP took power in 2014 with a promise of generating twenty million jobs annually but failed even to contain job losses at an alarming rate – the highest in the last 70 years. It is mirrored in the staggering volume of candidates for railway positions. A whopping 1,26,30,885 applications were received for a total of 35,281 openings in Railways Non-Technical Popular Categories.

The issue was reverberated in the ongoing budget session of Parliament. Members of the Rajya Sabha have demanded from the Government to investigate charges of anomalies in the Railways Non-Technical Popular Categories (NTPC) and Level 1 tests, which resulted in riots in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh last month.

Fauzia Khan of the NCP, who raised the matter during Zero Hour in the House, said the railway exam recruiting procedure has exposed the deeper concerns of unemployment and a failing education system. Ms Khan, who represents Maharashtra in Parliament, urged that the larger issue of unemployment be addressed, particularly in Bihar.

“The anomalies in this examination that the students report must be investigated and addressed,” she said.

Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP said that initially only one exam from Group-D was announced, but then it was announced that there would be two exams. There is no requirement for two exams as Group-D exams are not for selection of IAS and IPS, he said.

Sanjay Singh of the AAP has demanded an investigation of the railways’ results. He also sought the cancellation of FIRs filed against several protesting students.

The catastrophic situation of unemployment, starvation, poverty, inequality, and ill-health, all of which have risen dramatically in recent years as the BJP has strengthened its hold on power, increasing fanatical religious polarisation,  and weakening the pillars of our secular democratic Constitution.

In the single month of November 2021, 68 lakh salaried people lost their jobs. Nearly 9 crores in urban India are unemployed. Twenty-three per cent of youth in urban India are unemployed.

The total number of Indians in jobs shrank from 44 crore in 2013 to 41 crore in 2016. It further shrank to 40 crores in 2017 and to 38 crores in 2021. However, the working age population grew from 79 crore to 106 crore during the same period. Unable to find jobs, crores of people stopped looking for it and headed back to rural India for survival. Migrant workers forced to return due to lockdowns and closures suffered the most. The Labour Force Participation Rate has fallen from the pre-pandemic 43 per cent to 40 per cent. Women in the workforce had fallen from 36 per cent in 2013 to 23 per cent by 2018, according to a UNDP report. This fell further to 18 per cent in 2019 before the pandemic lockdowns. In February 2021, it was only 9.24 per cent.

Now take the case of railway recruitment. Going into the general election in 2019, when unemployment was soaring, as it still is today, the Modi government issued a notification, stating that there will be an examination for Group-D railway posts. A total of 1.25 crore young people applied for these jobs. They have still not been appointed even after passage of three years.

After some students complained that there were inconsistencies in the RRB recruitment procedure, the demonstrations began. The Government has planned to conduct two computer-based examinations (CBT) for the RRB Non-Technical Popular Categories (NTPC), which has enraged students.

On January 14, the results of Group-CBT-I D’s were announced, allowing candidates to be shortlisted for CBT-II.

Exams took place from December 28, 2020, to July 31, 2021. RRB released the exam answer key, question paper, and candidate response sheet on August 16. Between August 18 and 23, 2021, candidates were also given the opportunity to raise objections to any responses.

The protesters stated that this recruitment criterion was not included in the 2019 RRB notice. They claimed that the Government’s announcement only specified one exam. They claimed it was unjust of the RRB to compel them to retake the exam. They accused the administrators of “tampering with the students’ future.”

Around 1.25 crore people applied for the tests, which offered over 35,000 jobs at various levels from 2 to 6. The exam, it is alleged, is structured to favour people with a higher education, even for professions that require a lower education.

The Ministry of Railways has denied the allegations, claiming that the second stage of the exam (CBT-II) was advertised in the recruiting announcement.

“It is reiterated that the procedure for shortlisting of candidates for the second stage computer-based test (CBT) had already been given elaborately under para 13 of the original notification i.e., CEN 01/2019 published on 28.02.2019),” the RRB said in a clarification issued the day after the CBT-I results.

While the first stage CBT was a single exam for all candidates, the notification clearly indicates that the second stage CBT will consist of different exams for each group (Levels 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6) with varying graded levels of difficulty. As a result, all posts at the same level will have the identical 2nd stage CBT. “Because the standard (difficulty level) for each group of posts will be different (i.e., graduate or under-graduate level), if a candidate is eligible and has chosen more than one level (as per educational qualification), he or she will have to appear in the corresponding 2nd stage CBT for each level as given in Para 13.6,” it added.

However, candidates are claiming that holding the second stage for final selection amounts to “cheating” those who appeared and passed the first stage of the Railways’ Non-Technical Popular Categories (NTPC) computer-based test, which was released on January 15.

The students protest has snowballed into a major political issue and has provided opposition fresh ammo to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government. 

Talking to Radiance, Congress leader Supriya Shrinate said the Government unleashed violence against youth to hide its failure in creating employment.

“We have seen frightful visuals of how students are being beaten up. They were being lathi-charged, and dragged outside of their hostels. We have seen hands, faces, backs marred with blood, what has this government come to and what are these people really asking for?” she said.

“And the reality is that the PM promised two crore employment every year, but where are those two crore jobs? So, rather than creating opportunities and jobs, his government has consistently destroyed jobs, and the reality is that, particularly in a sector like the railways,” Shrinate said.

Urging the PM to keep his promises, she said students have been waiting for their appointments for three years and it must be excruciatingly uncomfortable for them.

Even BJP MP Subramanian Swamy also raised the concern over the issue. He took to twitter to say: “Word is being spread that now Modi government is planning to privatise the Railways. This is being correlated with repeated cancellation of employment recruitment exams in states. I warn the govt to clarify its position; otherwise, riots by youngsters are inevitable.”

Muslim groups also expressed their sympathies with struggling students.

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Vice President Mohammad Salim Engineer told Radiance that  the students’ agitation in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh over the alleged irregularities in the Railway Recruitment exams causes considerable concern for the Jamaat.

JIH urged the Government to address the grievances of the students and ensure that the alleged irregularities in the examination are removed and students are assessed in a fair manner without any bias and injustice, as promised by the Railway Minister, he said.

Meanwhile, the railways suspended the exams due to the protests and formed a committee to look into the grievances. It said it has received 1,40,440 concerns on their web programme – iroams.com/outreach, while 46,980 grievances were received via email.

Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw urged the protesting students to calm down and submit their demands formally.

“I request students that the railways is your property, please do not destroy it. We will solve your problems. The results of the exams will be transparent and fair,” Vaishnaw said.

However, the ministry issued a warning that anyone found engaging in violence would be disqualified from working for the railways.

The massive protest should be an alarm bell for the ruling party as it always tries to put people’s issues under carpet by raking up emotive and communal issues.

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