Patna: Take a walk down the main road in Patna’s Musallahpur Haat, and you will see a bustling marketplace with a maze of overhead wires, shops with endless rows of guidebooks for every competitive exam under the sun, and towering over them, giant hoardings, not of political leaders or film stars, but of teachers who run coaching centres. These teachers are revered as gods because they can help candidates crack exams that will land them a government job, be it in the railways, banking, or civil services.
Musallahpur Haat is to Patna what Mukherjee Nagar is to Delhi — a place where hundreds of unemployed youth land up every year, hoping to crack an exam that will get them a government job. Most of them come from families that are struggling to make ends meet, and are relying on them to become breadwinners.
But the difference now is that the burden of these expectations, and the angst of joblessness, has made many of these youth disillusioned.
The anger and disillusionment was clear during last week’s agitation against the Railways Recruitment Board (RRB) exam — effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi were burnt and a passenger train coach was set on fire in Gaya. Several students alleged discrepancies in the railways’ recruitment process. The protests began after the results of the common test for Non-Technical Popular Categories (NTPC) posts were declared. Earlier this month, the railways had released a notification saying it will hold two exams for ‘Group D’ services, which so far had just one entrance exam, which also riled up aspiring candidates.
5 feet x 10 feet rooms, 100 students in a building
Words like ‘Railway’, ‘SSC’, ‘Bank’, ‘Management’ jump out from coaching centre hoardings as soon as one reaches Musallahpur Haat. Equally prominent are the contact numbers of teachers, displayed in bold fonts.
One of these teachers is Faisal Khan, popularly known as ‘Khan sir’, who also runs a YouTube channel which has a whopping 1.46 crore (14.6 million) subscribers. He owns a small space in a gated complex of Musallahpur Haat, which he calls ‘Khan research centre’. A little ahead is the “coaching campus” of another popular teacher, S.K. Jha. For the youth who come here from all over Bihar, teachers like Khan and Jha are a beacon of hope for a better life.
A majority of the coaching centres here accommodate only male students. Most women in search of government jobs in the state prefer to opt for the banking sector.
Some young men come to Musallahpur Haat right after school, others after graduation, in their early twenties, and stay on till they are in their late twenties or mid-thirties, away from home and family. They are given accommodation in numerous ‘student lodges’ — residential buildings which have as many as 50 rooms measuring barely 5 or 6 feet by 10 feet. Often, up to a hundred students stay in one building. Living in a small room which serves as a kitchen, bedroom as well as study room, these men prepare for jobs that can guarantee them a secure future.
Rahul Kumar Patel, 25, is a resident of one such complex. Originally from Sitamarhi, he comes from a struggling family where his father, a farmer, is the only earning member. He has three younger siblings. Being the eldest son, his family has told him that it is his responsibility to get a job and start earning as soon as possible. His father sends him a sum of Rs 3,000-4,000 per month.
“I came here in 2018 and since then, I have been preparing for railway exams. I appeared in the non-technical exams this time, but could not get through. I will try again till I secure something,” Patel tells ThePrint.
The lodge where Patel lives is occupied by at least 100 other youth, all from Sitamarhi. One following the other’s footsteps, they all came to Patna to prepare for government jobs. While most of them got to know about these coaching centres by word of mouth, the centres also advertise their work through social media, especially YouTube.
“My brother and his friends came here after graduation, so I also wanted to come here. There is nothing else that I could think of doing after school,” says Dharmendra Kumar, 25, another resident of the lodge where Patel lives. “Growing up, I was told if I can get a government job, my life will be secure and the best bet is to try for a railways job since they come out with maximum vacancies,” he adds. Dharmendra’s father makes a meagre income by farming, and his two brothers drive autorickshaws.
Low fee one of the biggest factors
Most of the youth ThePrint spoke to said they can never imagine going to a Delhi University or Jawaharlal Nehru University, and IITs and NITs are far beyond their dreams. None of their families can afford those institutions, since all their families can afford is to send them Rs 3,000-4,000 per month to sustain.
Most of the centres here charge a nominal Rs 200-300 per month for teaching one subject. That way, even if a student is taking coaching for five subjects a month, he only pays around Rs 1,000 per month for 9-10 months of coaching, and opts for self-study for the rest of the period.
This is why Musallahpur Haat is swarming with students, according to AASH Education Centre’s S.K. Jha, an IIT Kharagpur graduate.
“Education is the least expensive here… We practically charge almost nothing from students because we know that they are from poor backgrounds. Most of the money that they have to spend here is on rent and food,” Jha tells ThePrint. He himself charges Rs 200 per month for science classes, and Rs 250 each for reasoning and math.
Jha estimates that nearly 3-4 lakh students live in and around Musallahpur Haat. “The locals here don’t construct homes, they construct lodges, so that they can accommodate as many students as they can and make money out of it. They charge as much as Rs 2,000 for a small room,” he adds.
In an average-sized coaching institute, 7,000-8,000 students are enrolled at a time. Even if one student pays Rs 500-1,000 per month, depending upon the number of subjects taken, the coaching centre can generate between Rs 35 and Rs 80 lakh per month.
Coaching centre owners, however, say the number of admissions has declined considerably amid the pandemic. “When we reopened after lockdown, only around 1,500-2,000 students returned to our centre. Other centres are also facing similar issues. We are hoping that the situation goes back to normal soon, so that more students can return to classes,” Navin Kumar, director of Platform Coaching Centre, tells ThePrint.
According to Sudhir Kumar Singh, founder secretary, Coaching Association of Bharat, a private body that monitors the growth of coaching centers in India, there are nearly 4,000 coaching centres in Patna. “All of Bihar has about 7,700 coaching centres and more than half of them are in Patna. But Covid has had an impact; almost 1,000 coaching centres in Patna have had to shut shop,” he said.
Singh pegs the annual revenue of the coaching industry in Patna at nearly Rs 450-500 crore.
‘A dream instilled in childhood’
The big question remains what is it about a government job that keeps these young men pursuing them for years while living in these conditions?
“It is a known fact that there is no industry in Bihar, so naturally, students do not have avenues for private jobs,” says Sanoj Kumar, a teacher who also runs a YouTube channel. “They run towards government jobs because it provides security and peace of mind. This is the reason you will see a large number of students staying here, preparing for all kinds of government jobs, from the junior-most level to the senior ones.”
“Students are motivated to stay here and study for railway jobs is because of the kind of the ease that comes with a government job. A railway employee or a government employee leads a comfortable life, he is happy with his job and gets paid decently… All these factors motivate students,” he adds.
According to S.K. Jha, salaries for ‘Group D to A’ jobs in the railways range from Rs 17,000 per month to Rs 50,000 per month for freshers.
Navin Kumar of Platform Coaching says the area has become a hub of coaching for general competitive exams because each student who achieves success inspires many others to tread the same path.
“Apart from Bihar, students from Hindi-speaking states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh also come to this place. Most of the students who join here are inspired by someone in their circle who was successful… It’s a trend built over the years,” he says.
“Most of the youngsters who come to these coaching classes get some or the other job… If not the Staff Selection Commission (SSC), then there are the various bank jobs, railways jobs, state government jobs, jobs in public sector undertakings (PSUs). Everyone gets into something or the other… Right now, you are witnessing a large number of aspirants still awaiting jobs because Covid has delayed most of the government exams,” Navin Kumar adds.
Nitish Kumar, 28, who now works as a station master in the railways, used to be a student in one of these centres. “The craze for railways and government jobs that you see in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh is instilled in the youth from their childhood. A good life, with a government house, fixed working hours and a decent salary is all that they look for and that is all that I have achieved with the job,” he tells ThePrint over the phone.
Nitish Kumar adds that while this could be a very mediocre achievement for others, for many like him and others who are still struggling, it is a dream come true.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)