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Mainstream, VOL LX No 26-27, New Delhi, June 18 & June 25 2022 [Double issue]

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, June 18 & June 25, 2022

Friday 17 June 2022

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, June 18 & June 25, 2022

Over the past years, credible commentators have repeatedly pointed out the limited job creation and a precarious labour market with a shrinking number of secure long-term jobs and the worrying prospect of social tensions due to growing unemployment. A few months ago there had been protests by the unemployed in the states of Bihar and UP over changes in recruitment procedures in the Railways. The simmering tensions over jobs have erupted again in the past 72 hours, with mobs of protestors claiming to be army recruitment aspirants taking to the streets in parts of India, they are opposed to the Central government’s Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces. These chaotic and spontaneous protests have turned violent in multiple cities in the states of Bihar, UP, Haryana, and Telangana with some pockets in West Bengal and Orissa, there has been stone-pelting in cities, arson attacks on shops, trains, roadways buses, private vehicles, railway stations, blocking highways. Police and security forces were unprepared and overwhelmed and mobile internet was suspended in Haryana and Bihar. There has been a large disruption in intercity transport systems and several hundred trains were affected, delayed, and canceled. The epicentre of the protests seem to the state of Bihar with the highest number of unemployed. It is obvious that not all who eventually joined the protests are aspirants for army jobs only, they are part of a disparate set of young people some who looking for the ever-shrinking & much sought-after government jobs but others too who aspire for a better life who grew up in homes with no social protection and live in precarious conditions, others may be drop outs, young informal workers etc and who join in the mayhem to express frustrations. These protests have been piggybacked by many signaling simmering discontent over the present and a difficult future. These disorganised violent lumpen-style protests will ebb but they are socially damaging and legitimise the repressive machinery of the state. One can calculate the figures and estimate the damage to public property but it is difficult to calculate the damage they do to the idea of the right to protest. It is a tragedy that Governments in India have been criminalising peaceful social movements which were spaces to express dissent, for protecting rights, expanding rights, and also learning spaces for citizens to organise non-violent collective action in a democracy. Tensions over economic insecurity and jobs are here to stay and there are prospects of more protests in future and hope the administrators realise the importance of trade unions, political parties, and civic platforms to give vent to public demands rather than the mob.

June 18, 2022 - HK

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