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‘Feel like tearing my books, going home’ — the deep despair behind Bihar’s railway jobs protest

Job aspirants in Bihar have been protesting against 'flaws' & changes in railways recruitment process. A ground report by ThePrint examines the craze for these jobs here.

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Patna: Alone in his tiny two-feet-by -10-feet rented accommodation in Patna’s Musallapur Haat, Rakesh Kumar, nurses the injuries he received in an alleged police action against job aspirants protesting against the “flaws” and changes in the recruitment process for employment in the railways.

The agitation against the railways recruitment board (RRB) examinations have been concentrated to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where protestors have burnt effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and vandalised trains — a passenger train coach was set on fire in Gaya Wednesday.

But pointing to his injured lower lip, Kumar, aged in his early twenties, claims he was beaten up by the police even though he didn’t take part in any violence. “I was protesting peacefully with other aspirants and did not even take part in any violence, but I was beaten up badly by the police…they treated me and others like animals,” he alleged, while talking of the incident that took place Wednesday, even as most of India was busy celebrating the country’s Republic Day.

For the past three years, Kumar, an original inhabitant of a village in Bihar’s Samastipur district, has been preparing for the RRB exams sitting in this one-room in Patna. The building where he lives, is surrounded by coaching centres for those preparing for any kind of government job — in the railways, banking, the civil services. Every year, young job aspirants like Kumar, from villages and towns across Bihar, make their way to these centres in Mussallapur Haat — Patna’s coaching hub to crack the entrance exams for government jobs — hoping to make it to a better life.

For Kumar, a school pass-out, the aspiration is to get a job as a trackman or helper in the railways— a Group D level job in the railways that demands Class 10 to 12 pass as a basic qualification. The job will bring him a starting salary of Rs 17,000 per month.

One of five siblings in a family of limited means (his father is unemployed, while his siblings do odd jobs), he has been doing odd jobs or selling purses and other accessories during the day, to support his stay and studies in Patna. In the evenings, he attends online coaching to prepare for the railways entrance examination, for which he pays Rs 1,000 of his approximate monthly income of Rs 4,000.

Earlier this month when the railways released a notification saying it will hold two exams for Group D services, which so far had just one entrance exam, Kumar and his fellow aspirants felt cheated by the government and went on a protest.

‘Been trying for government job for so long’

“I came to Patna in 2019 and started preparing for the Group D exams with the limited means available to me. I was preparing to write just one exam so far, but now I am being told to write two…just to get a labourer’s job in the railways. It is highly unfair to students like me, who have a hand-to-mouth existence. How am I going to prepare for the new exam? I feel like tearing up all my books and going back home,” said Kumar.

Rakesh Kumar studies in his room in Patna. | Photo: Nirmal Poddar | ThePrint
Rakesh Kumar studies in his room in Patna. | Photo: Nirmal Poddar | ThePrint

In the room next to Kumar, Dinesh Jha, 25, is in a similar state of mind.

“I could not get admission in a college after Class 12, because my family wanted me to earn as soon as I could. I work at a mobile shop here to pay for my coaching classes and prepare for the railways exams…I have been studying for just one exam so far, how much more am I going to study? I feel this is all worthless, I will go back to my village,” he told ThePrint. Jha aspired for a junior level job in the railways.

A little away from the two, but in the same area, lives Shiv Ranjan, who appeared for the Group C entrance exam of NTPC, the results for which were declared on 15 January. This category calls for a minimum eligibility criteria of Class 12 pass to graduation, and already has a two-step entrance examination system — CBT-1 and 2.  Results for the first test were declared on 14 January.

Unfortunately, Ranjan, who had appeared for the exam once before, was among those who could not qualify for the next round of examinations. The 25-year-old, however, blames it on a “flaw” in the examination pattern.

“One person has qualified for  jobs in five different levels that the railways had advertised. This has left many people out of the second stage of qualification. I have been preparing for the exam for the past four years and was hoping that this time I will be able to clear it,” said a disheartened Ranjan.

He added: “There are no private jobs in Bihar…what will I do? I have been trying to get a government job for so long.” After failing to clear the first round of entrance exam this year, Ranjan was filling forms for a skill development course for young people from the economically weaker sections, when ThePrint caught up with him.

The job aspirants’ protest against the railways examination has taken a political turn, with opposition parties backing a Bihar Bandh called by the All India Students Association (AISA) and others Friday, to protest against alleged issues with the railways entrance examinations.

The railways are not the only ones to be blamed for the problems being faced by these young people, however. Their frustration is rooted in the bigger unemployment crisis in the country, made worse by the pandemic of the past two years. According to a report by the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, India had 53 million unemployed people as of December 2021. Another report by the Center for Economic Data and Analysis, published in May last year, showed that unemployment in India was the worst in 29 years in 2020 because of the pandemic.

The unemployment problem in Bihar is worse than the national average. Between April 2017 and April 2020, unemployment in Bihar reportedly went up 31.2 per cent, to reach 46.6 per cent. The unemployment rate in the state was higher than the national average during the pandemic.

Decoding the problems in the examination system

“The Railways had advertised for 35,281 vacancies for Group C jobs this year and had also promised to select 20 times the number of vacancies for the second round of exams,” said S.K. Jha, teacher at one of the coaching centres here, who has been preparing aspirants for railways and other jobs.

He added: “Going by that logic, they should have selected over 7 lakh people, but only 3.84 lakh people have qualified for the second round. This is because everyone from a Class 12 pass-out to a graduate appeared for the exams together and one person got qualified for more than one post.”

One of the coaching centres in Patna. | Photo: Nirmal Poddar | ThePrint
One of the coaching centres in Patna. | Photo: Nirmal Poddar | ThePrint

Group C category jobs have been divided into five levels (2 to 6), depending on the gradation of eligibility criteria — lower to higher qualification. For example, level-2 category jobs include posts like junior clerks-cum-typist, accountantscum-typist and junior time keeper among others, while level 3 has posts like commercial clerks and level 5 will have posts like senior clerks.

The eligibility requirement for these posts range from that of a Class 12 pass-out to a graduate.

“This year, a Class 12 pass candidate seems to have been selected for both levels 2 and 3, based on their choice and qualification and graduates seem to have taken up both levels 5 and 6,” said Jha.

While the Ministry of Railways released a clarification Thursday saying that it had never mentioned that 7 lakh candidates will be shortlisted for the second round of exams, it eventually claimed that the number of “roll numbers” that they have been shortlisted are above 7 lakh.

“Nowhere was it mentioned that 7 lakh distinct candidates will get shortlisted for 2nd stage CBT (computer-based test). Since a 2nd Stage consists of CBT of five different levels and a candidate can be shortlisted for more than one level as per eligibility, merit and option, the lists of 7 lakh roll numbers will have some names appearing in more than one list,” the ministry said in a detailed clarification issued on 27 January.

“The short listing has been done level/post wise at the rate of 20 times notified vacancies The lists contain 7,05,446 roll numbers which is 20 times the notified vacancies of 35,281,” it added.

This is exactly what the candidates are calling a “discrepancy” or flaw and are protesting against.

For now, railways has postponed the second round of Group C services exam and has constituted a committee to look into the aspirants’ grievances.

Why the craze for railways jobs in Bihar?

According to a statement issued by Minister of Railways Ashwini Vaishnaw on 26 January, 1.25 core aspirants had applied for over 35,000 posts advertised by the RRB for the Group C services. Rough estimates by the state government shows that the maximum number of applicants are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

What explains this craze for the railways?

S.K. Jha, who has been quoted above said, “There is no industry in Bihar and as a result there are no private jobs, so what will the educated young men do for a living? Naturally they run towards government jobs…it guarantees them job security and decent pay.”

“On an average nearly 20 lakh youngsters apply for railways, banks and other government jobs…such is the level of unemployment in Bihar,” he estimated.

Railways and banks are among the biggest public sector job providers in the country, drawing many in Bihar.

“Salary for Group D to Group A in the railways ranges from Rs. 17,000 per month to Rs. 50,000 per month for freshers and the amount goes up as they grow in their career. Now imagine someone who earns Rs. 4000 a month (doing odd jobs) can earn more than Rs. 17,000 just by doing a Group D job in the railways…this is why the interest is so huge,” Jha added.

The problem of unemployment in the state has deepened because of the failed education system in Bihar, said Rashtriya Janata Dal National Spokesperson Subodh Mehta. “There are nearly 1.25 crore people between the age group of 18-23 in Bihar, who should be going to college, but 50 lakh out of those would be class 10 pass, nearly 35 lakh would be class 12 pass and only 25 lakh or so will be graduates,” he estimated.

He added: “A huge number of school dropouts also makes up a large chunk of unemployed youth and those who are educated have just one way to get employment — government jobs.”

But with even that becoming increasingly difficult to secure, aspirants like Kumar and Dinesh Jha above, said their only option now seems to be to return to their villages and open a shop, may be.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


Also read: ‘Change name to prohibition’ — Bihar teachers tell education department for liquor lookout letter


 

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