Agnipath: Indian state suspends internet, stops train services as protests against army reforms intensify

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Indian authorities have suspended trains and internet services in several parts of the eastern state of Bihar after one person was killed during violent protests over recent reforms announced in the recruitment process of the armed forces.

The new scheme, called the Agnipath or “path of fire” system, will induct aspirants for a short-term four-year contract into three services – navy, airforce and army. On completion of this programme, only 25 per cent will be retained and the others will be released.

Touted by defence minister Rajnath Singh as a “major defence policy reform” to make the Indian armed forces more “battle-ready” and youthful, the move is aimed at cutting down ballooning pensions and salaries, which has been a long-pending issue for India’s 1.38 million-strong armed forces.

Protesters, mainly young men, say the plan will limit opportunities for permanent jobs with the defence forces, which guarantee fixed salaries, pensions, and other benefits.

Thousands of protestors have attacked passenger trains, burned tires, and clashed with officials at railway stations across the country over the past week.

More than 350 trains were suspended across India as authorities tried to control the spiralling violence. Train services were stopped in Bihar till 8pm on Saturday and will be suspended between 4am and 8pm on Sunday.

Hundreds have been arrested and dozens of policemen injured in the states of Bihar, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal this week.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp have been blocked in 15 of 38 districts of Bihar, said Sanjay Singh, a senior police officer in the state.

He added that “around 2,000 to 2,500 people entered the Masaurhi railway station and attacked the forces” this week, which resulted in violence.

In a bid to contain the public rage, the Indian government said on Saturday that it would reserve 10 per cent of the vacancies in the paramilitary forces and Assam Rifles, a unit in the Indian army for those who had passed out of the army after the four-year period mandated in the scheme.

As protests were underway for the fourth consecutive day on Saturday, Mr Singh urged youngsters to apply under the new scheme, while the country’s navy chief claimed that the unexpected protests were probably the result of misinformation.

Some top defence officials have said the new recruitment plan was justified as the domain of warfare was changing and the forces need younger, more tech-savvy people.

But the contentious scheme has been harshly criticised by army veterans and aspirants for deploying a “hire and fire” culture into the armed forces as they say recruits will end up unemployed after a four-year stint.

The programme was announced despite existing anger as recruitments have been stalled for around two years due to the Covid pandemic, causing frustration among millions of aspirants fearing they might exceed the existing age limit.

The new scheme has not only shortened employment tenures to four years from the existing 17 for the lowest ranks, but has also made 75 per cent recruits ineligible for government pension.

Additional reporting by agencies

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting