Thousands of youth from various student unions, youth organizations, and movements across the country came together in New Delhi, India, to protest rising unemployment and government crackdowns on dissent.
The youth marched together to create a national platform, challenging the right-wing government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party with prime minister Narendra Modi at the helm. The organizations constituting the platform, which included All India Students’ Association (AISA), Chatra-Yuva Sangharsh Samiti (CYSS), Youth for Swaraj, Students for Society (SFS), Yuva JDS, Samajwadi Chattra Sabha, and others, started the Young India Adhikar March (Young India’s March for Rights) from Delhi’s Red Fort and concluded at Parliament Street.
The youth marched in protest against the four-and-a-half years of the Modi regime during which students in dozens of campuses, including JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University), FTII (Film and Television Institute of India), BHU (Banaras Hindu University), and Punjab University, have faced sedition cases, brutal crackdowns by the administrations, and rustication. At the same time, the government’s anti-youth and inefficient policies have led to a drastic increase in the unemployment rate.
Recent data collected by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) of India found that unemployment in the country is at its highest in 45 years. The joblessness soared after Modi’s 2016 decision of demonetization, a move which made 86% of the currency owned by Indian citizens illegal tender. The highly unpopular decision has been heavily criticized for slowing India’s economy, causing deep distress to the working class and small businesses, and even leading to around 100 people losing their lives.
Several youths at the rally were seen holding banners like “Selling Paan (betel leaves) and Pakora (an Indian fried snack) is not employment”, “Is it wrong to dream of a Government Job?” “Laakhon padd khali par yuva berozgaar!” (lakhs of job-vacancies but the youth are still unemployed).
The pakora comment is a jibe at Narendra Modi, who, instead of addressing the country’s unemployment crisis, once said in an interview that a street vendor selling pakoras for a living cannot be called unemployed.
The youth also highlighted the high number of vacant public sector posts, and the increasing amount of contractualization of government jobs.
The All India Railway Act Apprentice Association’s vice-president, Chandan Paswan, told Newsclick, “We need a one-time settlement from the government. After 10th grade, we have to do a two- year course of ITI (Industrial Training Institute), then we have to sit for an exam and then we have to go through an interview. After the interview, we have to go for training. There are 18,000 apprentices and 1.5 lakh vacancies, but only 20% are regularized. Under the previous government, we had regular jobs. We request Modi to regularize us.”
Another protester from the Railway Apprentice Association said, “I am from Punjab and we have been coming to [protest at] Jantar Mantar since the last four years. We are here to warn the Modi government that we youth can also vote them out of power if we have brought them to power. Our lives are no joke. We spend so much of our time and resources to clear this exam and get no jobs despite vacancies.”
Addressing the crowd, Deepak from Banaras Hindu University, said, “Padhaai ke saath saath ladaai par majboor kiya (while getting higher education, students are forced to fight for their rights). The stalled National Sample Survey report shows the rate of unemployment in this country. But the main question is, why aren’t the vacant posts being filled? Instead, the prime minister says selling pakodas is employment. This time when the youth of the country goes to vote, we will make sure we don’t vote for this fascist government. We will leave a pakoda in the booth as a message to our Prime Minister.” India will be going to the polls in a couple of months.
Kanimozhi, a member of parliament from Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a political party in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu, congratulated the students for standing up for their rights and showing the ‘fascist’ government that despite their attempts, they could not fool the youth of this nation. “It is imperative for India to free itself from this fascist government”, she said.
Other youth leaders, such as Jignesh Mevani, a member of Gujarat’s State legislative assembly, and Kanupriya, the first woman to be elected to Panjab University’s Campus Student Council, also addressed the crowd and spoke about growing unemployment. The youth warned the government that if their demands for jobs, filling of vacancies, etc, were not fulfilled by the end of February, the students and youth of this country would “flood the streets of the entire nation and show this government what the youth is capable of doing when they are denied their rights.”