One killed in India as protesters vandalise buses and trains over military hiring

The 'Agnipath' programme limits military service to only four years

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One person was killed as clashes between the police and protesters continued for a third day in India against a new recruitment programme for the armed forces.

The demonstrators vandalised buses and set fire to trains in several Indian states on Friday.

Confrontation with the police in the southern city of Secunderabad claimed the life of a protester, Reuters reported, citing a government official.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government this week announced a short-term policy, Agnipath, which limits service in non-commissioned military ranks for new recruits to a period of four years.

Military service has traditionally been considered a lifelong career in India, where government jobs are preferred for their stability and benefits.

India’s military has not conducted any recruitment in the past two years because of the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s rising unemployment rate had touched a four-decade high even before the pandemic dealt a blow to the economy.

The government has defended the new military recruitment policy as being “transformative”, but tens of thousands of people went on a rampage across several states to demand its withdrawal.

In the eastern state of Bihar, protesters in at least eight districts smashed train windows and set fire to at least four trains.

They damaged buses, burnt effigies of Mr Modi and hurled stones at police who fired tear gas to disperse them.

A large crowd tried to storm the residence of a top member of Mr Modi’s ruling alliance in the state on Friday, a day after the home of another politician from his party was attacked.

Bihar has one of the highest unemployment rates among Indian states, with tens of thousands of residents migrating to other states each year to find work.

Protesters also set fire to trains in Uttar Pradesh state and in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, where hundreds blocked key roads.

In northern Haryana state, police resorted to firing live ammunition after protesters tried to storm a government building.

Videos on social media showed police firing shots in the air to disperse protesters at a government office in Palwal.

Haryana imposed restrictions on movement and mobile internet services in several cities of the state that send a significant number of recruits to the military.

Protests were also reported from the capital, New Delhi, where nearly two dozen men blocked a train at a railway station, as well as in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.

The protests continued despite the government’s decision late on Thursday to increase the age limit for recruitment under the Agnipath scheme to 23.

The policy initially limited military recruitment to cadets between 17.5 and 21 years of age. A total of about 46,000 men and women were to be recruited across all branches of the military.

The government has said the future of the new cadets, known as Agniveers, would be stable under its new policy, but military veterans have called it a highly disruptive change for the 1.4 million-strong armed forces.

“I thought initially it was a trial being done on a pilot basis. This is an across-the-board change to convert Indian armed forces to a short tenure quasi-conscript force like the Chinese,” retired Major General G D Bakshi, a vocal supporter of Mr Modi, said on Twitter.

“For God’s sake please don’t do it,” he wrote.

Updated: June 17, 2022, 5:26 PM