Angry mobs in eastern India have set fire to empty train coaches and blocked rail traffic in protests over alleged flaws in railway recruitment that have seen police violently disperse crowds with tear gas and baton charges.
Bihar state has been on edge since the start of the week over claims by young job applicants that an entrance exam for the government-run rail sector was being conducted unfairly.
The job-seekers allege irregularities in recruitment by the mammoth railways department, one of the world’s largest employers with more than 1.2 million people working for it.
Protests began on a small scale on Monday but have since spread, with crowds pelting stones at train cars, blocking tracks and burning effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Protesters say the test results for different job categories showed that the names of the same people appeared multiple times, which unsuccessful candidates felt wrongly excluded them.
Millions of people had applied for some 150,000 jobs in Bihar and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state, they said.
“The recruitment process has not been transparent,” said Ashutosh Singh, one of the protesters in Bihar. “A number of the selected candidates had their names in various categories, which is very unfair.”
The Ministry of Railways on Wednesday said a committee had been formed to look into the concerns of the candidates. It earlier said those found involved in the vandalism and destruction of public property could be barred from appearing for railways jobs apart from other legal action.
More than a dozen people have been arrested for participating in the demonstrations, which have broken out at railway stations across Bihar and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.
In Bihar’s capital Patna, authorities have registered police complaints against some 400 unnamed people and six institutes involved in coaching students for railways and other jobs, senior official Chandrashekhar Singh told Reuters news agency.
In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state where local elections start next month, authorities suspended six police personnel for using “excessive force” against the protesters in the city of Prayagraj.
Three civilians had also been arrested, senior police officer Ajay Kumar said by phone.
Police have also been criticised for a heavy-handed crackdown, with social media footage showing officers barging into the homes of suspected demonstrators and flogging them.
“The youth have the right to talk about unemployment,” senior opposition leader Priyanka Gandhi said in a Twitter post condemning the attack.
On #PeoplesEditor we appealed many times that Railway Min officials need to have dialogue with aspirants, pay attention to their Job concerns. No one paid heed to massive digital protests.GOI Forced to talk now after anger erupted on streets #NTPC #JusticeForStudents #RRB_NTPC pic.twitter.com/gvcI3Yuyr0
— Smita Sharma (@Smita_Sharma) January 26, 2022
Joblessness has long been a millstone around the Indian economy’s neck, with unemployment figures at their worst since the 1970s even before the COVID-19 pandemic wrought havoc on local commerce.
India’s unemployment is estimated to have exceeded the global rate in five of the last six years, according to Reuters news agency.
Student associations have called for more protests this week, mainly in Bihar, which has been reporting one of the highest jobless rates in the country.