‘Where is my job’: nearly 10,000 Indian youth march, demanding employment

The youth were protesting the failure of prime minister Narendra Modi to keep his promise of providing 20 million jobs a year. India has in fact seen an absolute decline in the number of jobs

November 05, 2018 by Pavan Kulkarni
The youth sought the filling of vacancies in central and state government departments, and an employment scheme in the urban areas, among other demands. Photo: Vasudevan Narayanan

Less than two months after historic rallies by women, peasants and workers in India’s capital, nearly 10,000 youth, mobilized by the leftist organization, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), marched on Parliament Street in New Delhi on November 3. They were protesting the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government’s unwillingness to address the problem of rampant unemployment. The thousands of youth marched, asking the government the simple yet pointed question, ‘Where is my job?’

The youth were infuriated by the betrayal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose government has generated barely 10% of the number of jobs he had promised during his election campaign in 2014. Youth from 20 different States took part in the rally.

Many who arrived past 3 a.m from nearby north Indian states spent the wintry night on the railway platforms, before converging in a coordinated manner in the center of Lutyens’ Delhi, where the bungalows accommodating India’s most powerful ministers, bureaucrats and wealthy businessmen are located.

From here, the thousands of young women and men marched for 3 km, demanding a change to an incompetent government which has failed to fulfill the demand for education and employment for all.

It was rampant unemployment and soaring prices, combined with a severe agrarian crisis, that led to the downfall of the Indian National Congress (INC)-led government in 2014. During the 2014 election, Narendra Modi, who was spearheading the BJP’s campaign, promised to create 20 million jobs every year if he was elected.

This promise was a key reason for the BJP and Modi winning the election with a huge mandate. However, on coming to power, instead of reversing the neoliberal policies of the previous INC-led government, which produced the phenomenon of “jobless-growth”, the new government implemented them with renewed rigour.

Absolute decline in employment

What followed was not only an increase in unemployment, but the first known instance of an absolute decline in employment in Indian history since independence. Thus, even existing jobs were destroyed.

Studies based on the Labour Bureau’s data have shown that in the first two years after the BJP came to power, the total number of jobs in the country came down by 0.4% a year, as a result of which more than 3.7 million people, who were till then employed, lost their jobs.

The construction sector, which used to absorb many of the peasants who give up farming, was one of the worst affected in this period, with an estimated job loss of half a million. Hiring in manufacturing sector hit a 12-year low.

Adding to this economic stress, by the end of 2016, the government decided to demonetize currency notes of the denominations of 500 and 1,000. The government claimed that this move would bring black money back into the system, choke funding for terrorist organizations and launch India into the age of online payments. While none of this happened, many sectors where payments were predominantly made in cash were ruined.

In 2017, the country’s prized IT-sector, which was a crucial source of employment for educated, English-speaking youngsters, laid off 56,000 employees. This scale of job loss in the sector was worse than that during the peak of 2008 financial crisis. This year, the sector saw a 32% job decline in jobs – the highest rate among all sectors. According to an analysis based on corporate consultant McKinsey and Company’s report, a total of 600,000 engineers who secured jobs in this sector, often after spending a fortune on education, will be laid off by 2020.

Another 40,000 were laid off the telecom sector last year. According to a report by CIEL HR in April 2018, an additional 80,000-90,000 jobs could be lost in the first three quarters of this year. The ILO has predicted that overall, unemployment in India will increase this year, and will rise further in 2019.

The persistence of such higher levels of unemployment among the educated is not limited to these sectors. “Labour bureau of Indian government reports that 58.3% of graduates in our country are unemployed,” Mohammed Riyaz, the president of DYFI, said while addressing the demonstration. And in the case of post-graduates, unemployment is even higher at 62.4%.

This has also led to a sharp rise in underemployment. Nearly 37% of India’s workforce is underemployed. For instance, in the State of Haryana, many youth with postgraduate degrees end up working as police constables whose basic monthly pay ranges between 2,000 – 6,000 rupees ($27-82).

Adding insult to this injury, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when questioned about rising unemployment, dismissed the problem by saying that those eking out a dollar or two a day by selling pakodas (deep fried battered onions) on pushcarts in street corners also have jobs but do not figure in employment statistics.

“Where does he expect us to sell pakodas? On the streets, of course – where the police seize our carts (saying it is illegal) and throw the pakodas on the street. All our investment will be lost then,” Dinesh Singh, who had come to take part in the rally from the border area between Delhi and Haryana, told Newsclick.

The average number of new jobs actually created per day under the present government has been 450. With an average of 30,000 youngsters entering the labor market every day in search of jobs, this abysmal rate of job creation adds more than 29,500 people to the reserve army of labor daily. This phenomenon also affects the regular workforce as their bargaining power comes down drastically. A recent study shows that 82% of men and 92% of women in the workforce earn less than Rs.10,000 ($137) per month.

Addressing this crisis calls for a abandonment of policies which has led to a 10% rise in GDP but only a 1% increase in the number of jobs available. However, the government has failed to even take steps as basic as filling up the notified vacancies in government jobs.

As on last year, there were about two million vacancies in the public sector across the country which carry with them a certain sense of job security. Instead, in January this year, the government decided to scrap all the posts that have been lying vacant for five years or more.

At the DYFI rally, some of they key demands included filling up all notified vacancies in the government sector and lifting the ban on recruitment in central and State government departments.

Slow death of an employment scheme

The government has also been choking funds to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (MGNREGS) – the largest rural employment scheme in the world. The scheme guarantees at least a 100 days of employment at minimum wage to all rural households.

While even 100 days of employment is barely enough to meet the needs of the people, the government has only provided an average of 30-40 days of work under the scheme per year, Thirunavakarasu of All India Agricultural Workers Unions (AIAWU) had said on the same Parliament Street two months ago while addressing a demonstration by hundreds of thousands of farmers and agricultural laborers. Even for those were employed, 99% of the wage payments were yet to be made, as on April this year.

The need of working hands to build and maintain irrigation canals, dams, roads, storehouses for agricultural produce, public hospitals, schools, toilets, electricity grids etc is palpable at the first visit to any part of rural India. While there is no shortage of people seeking work, what is lacking is the willingness of the government to undertake public expenditure to build these basic facilities, while at the same time providing large-scale employment. At the rally, the youth demanded the revival of the MGNREGS, as well as the launch of a similar scheme for the urban workers.

Speaking at the rally, general secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sitaram Yechury, noted, “If half of the more than 164 billion dollars borrowed from public sector by our large capitalists – who were then allowed by the government to escape the country without repaying – can be recovered, there will be sufficient funds to provide education, healthcare and employment for all the youths in the country.”

Yechury urged the youth to raise their voice loud enough to be heard in parliament, asking “Mr. Modi, Where are our jobs? And if you cannot provide them, then vacate your seat of power. We will change this system, and bring about a new system in the country.”