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Protests rage over India’s new military recruitment policy

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NEW DELHI – Hundreds of youths in India torched train carriages, vandalized railway property and blocked railway tracks and highways with rocks as an angry backlash continued for a second day on Friday over a new government’s short-term recruitment policy for the army.

Nearly 500 protesters vastly outnumbered police as they rampaged for more than an hour at Secundrabad railway station in southern India.

Television footage showed people setting fire to empty carriages and vandalizing property belonging to railway authorities. They burned tires and blocked train tracks, disrupting train services in the area for several hours. No injuries were immediately reported.

The violence has also affected eastern Bihar state, where protesters set fire to trains at Arrah and Buxar stations and damaged offices and electronic facilities. Protesters also blocked highways for hours.

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, protesters threw stones at buses in the city of Varanasi.

Under the new employment scheme announced by Defense Minister Rajnath Singh this week, the armed forces can recruit 46,000 men and women in the 17.5-21 age bracket this year, but only for four year. Seventy-five percent of them will be compulsorily retired after four years without pension benefits.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which faces national elections in 2024, is under pressure to create jobs as India’s economy recovers from the pandemic crisis. One of the ideas behind short-term military recruitment is that those trained by the armed forces can then seek employment in the police or in the private sector.

The government’s rationale also appears to save money by avoiding the burden of pensions by withdrawing them after four years. Pension payments have averaged just under a quarter of India’s overall defense budget for years, leaving limited funds for army modernization, military analyst Rahul Bedi said. in a blog post.

With 1.4 million active personnel, the Indian army is the second largest in the world after China and the third biggest spender.

Army recruiting has been halted for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and thousands of aspirants have spent time preparing to join the army.

“Now we are told we will only hold the position for four years,” said one protester.

Defense Minister Singh on Thursday evening extended the age limit by two years on an exceptional basis, noting that there had been no military recruitment in the past two years.

Vice President Malik, a retired Indian army chief, said the young people’s disappointment was understandable.

“The government and the armed forces need to do more outreach work to justify and explain the program to young people,” he said in an interview with The Times of India newspaper.