India’s Agnipath: Violent protests erupt against new military conscription scheme

Prime Minister Narendra ModiThe government this week announced a sweeping conscription reform in India’s 1.38 million-strong armed forces, with the aim of lowering the average lifespan of individuals and reducing pension expenditures.

But potential recruits, war veterans, opposition leaders and even some members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have expressed reservations about the revised process.

In Palwal district of northern Haryana state, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the capital, New Delhi, mobs hurled stones at the home of a government official and police protecting the building fired shots to keep the crowd at bay, according to a video clip from a partner of Reuters. Ani.

“Yes, we fired a few shots to control the crowd,” a local police official said, declining to be named.

There was no immediate information about injuries.

Haryana’s Information Department said mobile internet has been temporarily suspended in Palwal district for the next 24 hours.

Police officials told Reuters that protesters in the eastern state of Bihar set fire to an office of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the city of Nawada, attacked railway infrastructure and blocked roads, while demonstrations spread to several parts of the country.

The protesters also attacked railway properties across Bihar, settling on burning buses in at least two locations, damaging train tracks and vandalizing a station, according to officials and a railway statement.

The new conscription system, called Agnipath or “fire path” in Hindi, would bring men and women between the ages of 17 and a half and 21 for four years in the ranks of non-officers, with the quarter being retained for longer periods.

Previously, soldiers were recruited by the Army, Navy, and Air Force separately and usually entered service for up to 17 years for the lowest ranks.

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The short term of service caused concern among potential recruits.

“Where do we go after working for only four years?” Surrounded by fellow protesters in Cihanabad district of Bihar state, a young man told ANI. “We’ll be homeless after four years of service. So we’ve jammed the roads.”

Smoke rose from burning tires at a junction in Ceyhanabad as protesters chanted slogans and performed push-ups to ensure they were fit for duty.

Bihar and neighboring Uttar Pradesh witnessed protests over the recruitment process for railway jobs in January this year, underscoring India’s persistent unemployment problem.

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

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

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