Prayagraj: “I don’t love Prayagraj anymore.”
This is what 27-year-old Allahabad University M.Sc. (Physics) alumnus Ankit Singh had to say while waiting for a rickshaw in front of a board in DIET, Civil Lines, which reads ‘I love Prayagraj’.
“I still remember the day I came to this city in 2013 with the hope of making a future for myself. All I wanted was to leave this city as a government servant. But today, I am forced to run from here as a criminal,” says Singh, as he embarks on the rickshaw.
Singh is one of thousands of students who are leaving Prayagraj after the police crackdown on the students who staged a protest last month against the government over anomalies in the procedure of Non-Technical Popular Category (NTPC) examination, conducted by the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB).
Pawan Raj, a 24-year-old who appeared for the Group C entrance exam of NTPC, the results for which were declared on January 15, is among those who could not qualify for the next round of examinations due to RRB’s irregularities. He is now worried about his fate.
“Over the past five years, I have appeared for over 20 exams. Seven were canceled due to paper leaks. The results of three are still pending. There are posters of youth getting four lakh jobs in UP. But I can’t see anyone being selected,” he says.
This is not the first time that such discrimination against students has taken place. In 2019, the UP government had held a mega recruitment drive and examination to hire 69,000 assistant school teachers. However, the entire process was marred with allegations of bias and irregularities, including allocation to quotas in the merit list.
Mamta, a teacher aspirant who lives in the Chota Baghada area of Prayagraj, speaks of how the ruling government, which denied reservations to Dalit and backward communities during the recruitment of 69,000 assistant school teachers, is now lashing out at them with lathis.
“This government has mastered the art of making tall claims of giving jobs to the youth but they do not open vacancies. When they did open the vacancies, the exams were canceled. How insensitive has this government become that they don’t even care about our effort? If you ask this government how they will repay for the time and money that has been spent on preparing for this exam, they will not have an answer,” she adds.
The frustration is rooted in the bigger unemployment crisis in the state. According to the Rojgaar Sangam website, Uttar Pradesh has over 41 lakh applicants looking for jobs.
Stating that the government has made a mockery of their poverty, Ravi Yadav, 26, who holds a Diploma in Electrical and is preparing for his Junior Engineer (JE) exam, says he is pained to see his father fighting every day to keep the stove burning.
“My parents have already spent a lot of money on my coaching and lodging. Coming from a humble, unprivileged background, my family is relying on me to get them out of this situation. But how am I supposed to do that in the face of this constant state failure? This is really heartbreaking. Amidst all this, if we don’t go for protests or suicides, what else should we do,” says Yadav.
On the question of how students are resorting to violence and damaging public property, Ambuj Kumar Pandey, a teacher aspirant who was standing next to Yadav, says, “Time and again, we have taken to social media to raise our grievances against the government but to no avail. Losing our hopes and patience now, we are forced to hit the streets. Although it wasn’t a great move, it is the government who is responsible for all the loss and destruction that happened.”
With all the perplexity around the exam format, not just students but the teachers conducting classes in those popular coaching institutes are agitated by the actions of the government.
“Earlier, we were hopeful that the ruling government would do some good for the students. We were even optimistic that in order to woo young voters, the Yogi Adityanath-led government might announce some exam dates, results, or new vacancies. But whatever happened in the past few months, my students are making sure that they will remember this lathi charge while casting their votes on February 27,” says the head of a coaching institute in Prayagraj on the condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, the Railway Board has formed a high-level committee to examine the grievances of those who have passed the RRB NTPC CBT 1 exam under different railway recruitment boards (RRBs) and those who couldn’t clear the exam.
According to officials, on February 4, the Board started its outreach programme to connect with aspirants who had taken to the streets to protest against irregularities in its NTPC and Level 1 exams and reached out to about two lakh students. As of now, the board has already received over 1,80,000 grievances.
Amid the hustle and bustle of elections, the students are expecting a response from the authorities regarding the job crisis issue. An acknowledgment from the government could go a long way and soothe their concerns to some extent. However, as seen before, the government has been quiet, ignoring the voices of the youth. The effects of the same will reflect on the results of the Uttar Pradesh elections which will be announced on March 10.
Diksha Yadav is a freelance journalist who has previously worked with several publications including The Hindu, The Statesman, and India CSR. You can find her on Twitter @DikshaY62646349
All images have bee provided by the author.