Protesters in India’s eastern state of Bihar have damaged public property and looted offices at a train station, expressing outrage at a new military recruitment plan and calling for the government to reverse course.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has launched a program called Agnipath, or “Path of Fire,” aimed at bringing more people into the military on four-year contracts in a bid to lower the median age of India’s 1.38 million-strong armed forces.
A senior military general, Lieut Gen Anil Puri, told NDTV news channel that the goal of the plan is to make the military more modern and effective.
Analysts said the new system would also help lower burgeoning pension costs, but opponents believe it would limit opportunities for permanent Defense Forces jobs, affecting salaries, pensions and other benefits.
One person was killed and more than a dozen injured in a series of protests in some regions of the country against the new system this week.
Thousands of young men attacked train carriages, burned tires and clashed with officials at a train station in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, on Saturday.
Authorities canceled 369 trains across the country, many of which passed through troubled areas.
Sanjay Singh, a senior law enforcement official in the state, said at least 12 protesters were arrested and at least four police officers were injured in clashes.
“About 2,000 to 2,500 people entered the Masaurhi railway station and attacked the forces,” he said.
In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, police arrested at least 250 people in so-called preventive arrests. Some demonstrators accused the police of using excessive force.
To stem outrage, the federal government on Saturday announced concessions to those who will serve on the program.
The Interior Ministry announced that it would reserve 10% of vacancies in the paramilitary forces and Assam Rifles, a unit of the Indian Army, for those who have retired from the army after the four-year period prescribed by the program.
The Department of Defense said it will reserve 10% of its vacancies for those who complete the program.
“Maybe people misunderstood because it’s a new system, but we’ve discussed this with everyone, including ex-soldiers,” Defense Minister Rajnath Singh told a conference on Saturday.
The program calls for 25% of recruited soldiers to be retained after four years of service, with the remainder being prioritized for other jobs, such as in the state police.
The Navy chief said Friday the protests were unexpected and likely the result of misinformation about the new system.
“I didn’t expect such protests,” Admiral R. Hari Kumar told ANI. “It is the largest single transformation in human resource management that has ever taken place in the Indian military.”
The program is not open to women in combat roles and there are currently no plans to change this.