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Kerala

Agnipath Protests: Why Kerala Was Relatively Calm As Opposed To Other States

Most of the aspirants from Kerala have higher educational qualifications and many of them who enrol in the armed forces may have already completed their degree, because of which they have plenty of other options to go for if a career in the forces doesn’t work out.

Agnipath protests
Youngsters sit on railway tracks to protest against the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, in Buxar, Wednesday, June 15, 2022. (PTI Photo)

Over the last week, India witnessed widespread protests across various states over the newly launched Agnipath scheme. Many of these protests over the new recruitment scheme of the Indian armed forces took a violent turn, leading to trains being set on fire, public property getting vandalised, people being injured and even the death of two persons. 

Under this scheme, soldiers will be recruited into three forces of the Indian armed forces for a period of four years, after which they will be released from service. And only 25 per cent of those released from the contract, will be re-enlisted as permanent soldiers in the force.

On top of this, the soldiers who are released from service as well as those who have been re-enlisted, won’t be eligible for pension benefits for their 4 years of service.

Now, what has irked the protestors is the fact that the new scheme does not guarantee job security and other benefits like pensions and gratuity, which have been some of the factors which made the Indian Armed Forces a sought-after job for the country’s youth, especially in states like Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, which are known to send the maximum recruits to the Indian army. 

“For people in India’s northern states, a job in the Indian armed forces is similar to what a job in gulf countries used to be for people in Kerala, at one point in time,” remarks KV Madhusoodanan, retired DIG of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

Apart from being a major source of employment, a job with the armed forces was also a matter of prestige, given the perks and benefits that came with it. And hence, the protests in some of these states did not come as a surprise. 

A lesser-known fact is that the south Indian state of Kerala is also not far behind in the list of Indian states, from where soldiers are recruited to the army.

According to data by the Ministry of Defence, the average army recruitment in India from 2017 to 2019 per 10 lakh people was 37. Kerala’s average was 36, which is not a small number as far as representation from the state in the armed forces is concerned. 

However, even as protests raged across the country, the response from the otherwise politically active state of Kerala, was lukewarm, to say the least. Yes, there were protest marches organised by organisations such as the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) and the All India Youth Federation (AIYF) in the state, demanding the roll-back of the scheme, launched by the Union Government on June 14. But the response has been mild when compared to other states. Retired defence officers based in Kerala feel that coaching institutes could have played a major role in the upheaval witnessed in many of the states.

In fact, the police have also begun probing whether coaching institutes in states like Bihar, UP, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh have misled or provoked the students to protest against the Union Government’s scheme. 

“In Kerala, although there are plenty of coaching centres for UPSC Civil Services preparation and State PSC exams, there aren’t many focussed on defence service examinations as compared to other states. Whereas, in states like Haryana, Bihar and UP, the youth list themselves in the army right after they are done with school education, as it is a matter of pride and prestige in their social circles,” says Madhusoodanan. 

The other major factor that made the situation in Kerala different from the rest is that most of the aspirants from Kerala have higher educational qualifications and many of them who enrol in the armed forces may have already completed their degree, because of which they have plenty of other options to go for if a career in the forces doesn’t work out. “We have observed in the past that, if we ever come across a jawan with a Btech degree, there is a 90 per cent chance that he is from Kerala. Many of those who do not qualify for the armed forces can easily get another job,” states the former CRPF officer. 

However, the case is different for the majority of the youth in north Indian states, who view an army job as a road to a better life. “If they don’t get a job in the army or any of the services, many of them will be forced to get into farming or menial labour, which does not guarantee a steady source of income. So there is desperation amongst them, as was seen in the recent protests,” points out Madhusoodanan. 

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