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Crushed dreams, low morale, pressure from home — Why many army hopefuls in Bihar are anti-Agnipath

While some say their ‘army dream’ was about prestige and pride, for many hailing from poor families, a job in the armed forces came with the promise of financial security.

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Patna: Pressured by their families to return home, skipping practice sessions after years of rigorous training at defence academies in hope of joining the forces, army aspirants opposed to the Centre’s Agnipath recruitment scheme are a demoralised lot. 

Ever since the scheme was announced on 14 June, violent protests have erupted in several parts of the country. Bihar especially has become a hotbed of such protests, most of which have targeted trains and railway stations. 

The protesters are opposing many of the changes introduced by the Centre under the scheme — especially the length of the service, the lack of pension, and the 17.5-21-year age restriction.

ThePrint visited Patna’s Gandhi Maidan and Moin-ul-Haq Stadium in Rajendra Nagar, where army aspirants prepare for the tough physical training needed for recruitment to the armed forces. Many were found to be missing out on practice, choosing to remain in lodges that line the congested lanes of Bhikhana Pahari area — a hub for defence academies in Patna. 

A majority of them expressed support for the large-scale protests against the recruitment scheme.

Many army aspirants preparing for army and police recruitment in Rajendra Nagar said they were opposed to the Agnipath scheme | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Many army aspirants preparing in Rajendra Nagar said they were opposed to the Agnipath scheme | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

While some said their “army dream” had been crushed, others said that for them, a job in the forces meant stability. For many hailing from poor families, such a job came with the promise of financial security. 

Some are even considering other options like preparing for home guard recruitment exams.

At both practice grounds, ThePrint also met with students preparing for Daroga (sub-inspector) posts, who expressed solidarity with anti-Agnipath protesters.

Mikki Kumari from Kaimur district, who is preparing for a Daroga post, called the matter a “big joke”. 

Speaking to ThePrint, she asked: “Ye bohot bada mazaak hai. Kya ye bacche char saal baad phir competition karenge? (This is a big joke. Will these aspirants again compete after four years?” 

Also Read: No Agnipath rollback, applicants must pledge they didn’t take part in protests, says Lt Gen Puri

About ‘prestige and pride’ for some, survival for others

Among the aspirants is an 18-year-old who comes from a family of army officers based in Siwan district. Many of his brothers, uncles and other relatives have served in the military.

Two months ago, his family sent him to Patna.

With the Moin-UL-Haq stadium closed due to ongoing metro construction, hundreds of aspirants have relocated to nearby school grounds to practice running and other physical exercise. 

At one such school ground, the 18-year-old was among just three aspirants who turned up for training. 

“I have pushed myself to go to the ground today,” he told ThePrint, not wanting to be identified. “My lodge mates are demoralised. They have not eaten proper meals. Many are surviving on dahi-chura for days now.” 

He added that many of them were “shocked” when the Agnipath scheme was announced. “We are still trying to cope with the fact that our army dream is crushed. It is not only about salary. It is about prestige and pride for me.”

For two other youths who hail from Gopalganj and Supaul districts, two years of rigorous physical exercise and running were more about employment, job security, and making their place in society.

Both live in separate lodges in the Bhikhana Pahari area. 

The youth from Gopalganj, aged 17, shares a rented 10×8 ft room with another aspirant. A cot without a mattress, three pairs of pants and shirts hung up on the wall, a map of India and some second-hand books on current affairs — these are his only belongings. 

One of the aspirants in his room in a lodge in Bhikhana Pahari area. He has stopped going to training sessions | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
One of the aspirants in his room in a lodge in Bhikhana Pahari area. He has stopped going to training sessions | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

“My father is a farmer. He earns only Rs 3,500 a month. I pay Rs 2,000 for the room rent and spend Rs 50 on food every day. I have been sleeping only for days now. My family is calling me back the moment they heard the news. There is a huge anger in the villages,” he told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.

He is now thinking of competing in home guard recruitment exams because “at least they give salary ranging between Rs 25,000-30,000 and you don’t have to stay away from your family”.

The army aspirant from Supaul, who turned 23 a few months ago, had to give up on his dreams of becoming an officer due to the pandemic, because of which no recruitment rallies were held by the army in the last two years. 

Caption: A 17-year-old from Gopalganj district, who has stopped attending training sessions | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
A 23-year-old from Supaul, who cleared the physical and written tests but is no longer eligible for army recruitment | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

He is part of the anti-Agnipath protests because like him, many others were hoping that the government would come up with some decision to give aspirants who lost out on their opportunity because of Covid, another chance. 

“I had cleared the physical test at Katihar and sat for the written exam in 2021. But the results were never announced and I kept waiting,” he told ThePrint, adding that his family soon stopped financing his training, after which trainer Sujit Kumar supported him for a while. 

Aspirants during a training session in Rajendra Nagar | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Aspirants during a training session in Rajendra Nagar | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

Kumar, who is a trainer at Chanakya Defence Academy, said the academy has been training youth for the last five years in Patna. 

“At least 100 army aspirants came for practice last week. But only three turning up this morning,” he told ThePrint.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: Gandhigiri, but detention too: How UP Police handled ‘twin challenge’ of Agnipath, Prophet rows


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