Violent protests erupt in India against new military recruiting scheme


Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government this week announced a recruitment review for India’s 1.38 million armed forces, with the aim of lowering the average age of staff and cutting pension spending.

But would-be recruits, military veterans, opposition leaders and even some members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have expressed reservations about the revamped process.

In the Palwal district of the northern state of Haryana, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the capital New Delhi, crowds threw rocks at the home of a government official and police protecting the building fired shots to keep the crowd at bay, according to video footage from Reuters partner ANI.

“Yes, we fired a few shots to contain the crowd,” said a local police officer, who declined to be named.

There was no direct information on casualties.

Mobile internet was temporarily suspended in Palwal district for the next 24 hours, Haryana’s information department said.

Protesters in eastern India’s Bihar state set fire to a BJP office in the city of Nawada, attacked railway infrastructure and blocked roads as demonstrations spread across parts of the country, police officials told Reuters.

Protesters also attacked railway yards across Bihar, set up coaches in at least two locations, damaged train tracks and vandalized a station, according to officials and a statement from the railways.

The new recruiting system, called Agnipath or “path of fire” in Hindi, will bring in men and women aged 17-and-a-half to 21 for a four-year term of office with non-commissioned officers, with only one quarter held for a longer period of time.

Previously, soldiers were recruited separately by the Army, Navy, and Air Force and typically serve for up to 17 years in the lowest ranks.

The shorter tenure has raised concerns among potential recruits.

“Where are we going after only four years working?” a young man surrounded by fellow protesters in Bihar’s Jehanabad district told ANI. “After four years of service, we are homeless. So we blocked the roads.”

Smoke billowed from burning tires at an intersection in Jehanabad, where protesters shouted slogans and performed push-ups to emphasize their fitness for duty.

Bihar and neighboring Uttar Pradesh saw protests against the railway job recruitment process in January this year, underscoring India’s ongoing unemployment problem.

Varun Gandhi, a BJP lawmaker from Uttar Pradesh, said in a letter to Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday that 75% of those recruited under the scheme would become unemployed after four years of service.

“Every year this number will increase,” Gandhi said, according to a copy of the letter he posted on social media.

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