The latter half of January 2022 saw a series of peaceful and violent protests by the students in the parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. While the students claimed that the government was negligent, the latter kept its stance saying that it sided with the students. A protest that could have taken a much more violent turn, was brought to a halt after verbal assurance from the government’s mouthpiece.
“The government kept giving us tentative dates of exams. We kept doing twitter campaigns seeing Covid, but the response remained the same. We were kept waiting for 3 years and all for what? In the first place we have to wait for about 6 months for a result, a result which shows nothing but a betrayal of the government towards the students.”, said Bittu Kumar, a student in the State Capital Patna who has been preparing for NTPC for the past 6 years.
NTPC(Non-technical Popular Category) is an exam that had 35,277 vacancies in the 2019 notification while the Group-D exams had a total of 1,03,769 vacancies in total. Both these exams are conducted by the Central Railway Board RRB (Railway Recruitment Board) which consists of 21 Boards in total across the country, all of which conduct the exams independently.
Where it all began
There were a couple of problems with the Railway NTPC (Non-technical Popular Category) and Group-D exams. NTPC results were allegedly found to be fraudulent and were being seen as a betrayal from the government by the students. The current regime, before it was voted back to power again in 2019, had issued a notification earlier that year saying that they would qualify 20 times the number of vacant posts for the CBT-2 (Computer Based Test) of NTPC. The regime had also promised that they would fill in the vacancies of 4 lakh jobs within a span of two years.
However, this hope given to the candidates was short-lived. The government as soon as the elections were over, forgot about these 1 Crore 42 lakh students who had applied for the NTPC exam and in total had paid a sum of Rs 864 Cr in total as shown by Yuva Halla Bol (a youth movement working towards the issues of employment, healthcare, and education across the country).
Another problem was with the Group-D exam which is basically for the selection of trackmen and store workers in railways. This exam was supposed to have CBT-1 and a skill test. However, right before the exams, the government changed the format and informed that the students would have to answer two CBT exams before they could sit for a skill test. Moreover, the syllabus for this skill test was the same as the mains’ exam of NTPC. The students were angry as there was no comparison between the two exams, Group-D was supposed to have a much more lenient process.
Protests: From social media to the streets of Bihar and UP
“We did not come on the ground from the very beginning. We were only protesting on social media requesting the government to listen to us, pleading for our lives. However, the government absolutely turned a deaf ear to us and remained complacent. Ultimately, we were left with no choice and had to protest in order to make our voices heard.”, said Sushil Kumar, a candidate of both NTPC and Group-D exam from Saharsa in Bihar.
The students on January 24 came out to protest in various parts of Bihar, blocked several rail tracks, and burnt a few trains. When the agitation did not stop, the state government ordered a lathi charge on the students followed by the bombing of tear gas shells on thousands of protestors.
The railways are the biggest government job-providing sector, and lakhs of students rely on these NTPC and Group-D exams. While the protests did get violent, what needs to be marked here is the social media outrage before that. There were more than 8 million tweets on the Twitter campaigns questioning the government on the results declared and pleading with them to make corrections to the same. Following this, several groups called for protests against the government and made it clear that they would not hold back unless those in power met all of their demands.
In Prayagraj, there was a clash between the police and the students where the police were seen doing a lathi charge on the students, first on the roads, and then inside the hostel where students resided.
Vikram Yadav, a candidate of NTPC was a part of this protest. He spoke to Mojo Story and narrated the entire happenings on 25th January. He said,” We just had lunch and got out of the mess when we saw a group of around 700 students shouting slogans and proceeding towards Prayag Junction. We along with them got inside the station as the students protested sitting on the railway tracks. Initially, it was all calm, neither the students nor the police was violent.
The students leading were in a conversation with the police and it seemed like things would be normal. Later, the police called the control room, and soon after, at around 12 pm, the police ordered a lathi charge on the protestors. Everyone started rushing out of the station as the police chased us. This soon turned into a scuffle between the police and the protestors when the students in response to the uncalled lathi charge, started to pelt stones at the police.” This as per Yadav continued for about half-hour after which the incident at the lodge happened, the video of which was viral on social media.
He continued, “We later saw the police barge into a hostel near Purvanchal ‘chauraha’ opposite to Ram Priya road which is about 500m from the Prayag junction, and started to pull the students out of their rooms and brutally assault them. Ones who could escape ran out of the hostel and the others remained stuck in their rooms.” This is the same hostel from where students are now leaving and heading back to their hometown.
Police have been taking round-ups ever since this incident happened. The students are too scared to talk to the media. They feel that talking to the press would hamper their education and the government would disallow them from sitting for exams. The ambiance of fear has persisted in the streets of Purvanchal ever since.
Pankaj Pandey, an activist and an eye-witness to everything spoke to Mojo Story about the horrifying incident. He said, “The students are here to study. The situation was already out of control here. Many FIRs had already been lodged against students before the NTPC results issue caught attention. These protests do not have leadership. The police in an attempt to hunt the students down were literally seen jumping off from the verandah, breaking down windows, and literally threatening the students, many of whom were not even a part of the protests.
It seemed like the police were trying to catch terrorists and not students.” Elaborating more on the fear that perpetuated into the minds of students, he said, “The lodge has around 40-50 rooms in total. Out of this, around 30-40 rooms are completely vacant now, most of the students have gone back home.”
Many students have been arrested post this incident. However, most of them were released after an ultimatum in the evening on the same day. Two of them still remain arrested. One of them has a criminal conspiracy (120(B) of the IPC) charged against him.
Meanwhile, in the State capital of Bihar, Patna, an FIR was filed against 4 students namely Rohit Kumar, Rajan Kumar, Kishan Kumar, and one more. The FIR was filed in the Railway police station and Patrakaar Nagar police station. The charges against these students were Section 147, 148, 149, 151, 152, 186, 187, 188, 321, 323, 353, 504, 506, 120(B) of the IPC. Out of these charges, 506, 120(B), and 353 are non-bailable offences. 3 of them are from Lakhisaray, Bihar and one is from Jharkhand.
Rajan Kumar had an exam of SSC(CGL) to take on January 29.
However, he was put behind bars and will not be able to sit for the exam. Rajan had been preparing for the test for over 5 years while staying in Patna. A team of Yuva Halla Bol reached Patna on January 28 and met the parents of these arrested students.
Rishav Ranjan, National General Secretary of Yuva Halla Bol while speaking to Mojo Story, mentioned, “These students come from extremely poor families. Their fathers are either farmers or daily wage labourers. They do not even have sufficient finances to get their students bailed out. They say that they are really scared and would not allow their students to prepare for exams if the government’s actions remain this way.”
Continuing on their tenure of preparation, Rishav continued,” These students have been preparing for not just one but several exams to help their family meet their ends. They have stayed in Patna for as long as 5 years. Their bail application could not be heard yesterday. Today, on January 29, they will again run to the courts in search of justice for their children.”
“We do not like protesting. We are mere students who have been preparing for exams for a really long time now. Our fathers are farmers. It gets really difficult to make our ends meet, but our parents still somehow manage our hostel fee, our food expenses, and all the other needs. We are not able to help them in any way, all for no fault of ours”, said Dinesh Kumar while narrating his family background and his difficulties to the Mojo Story. He continued, “In a few years, my father would also give up on me. I am the only hope that my family has, and with this negligence of the government, I would be left astray.”
Post the protests, the government has remained silent and has not responded to the tweets of the students. Post the protests, the government first said that they would suspend all the exams if the students continued to protest. However, when this had little effect on the students, the former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, Sushil Modi in a video was seen saying, “We are with the students at all costs.
They have two major demands and we are ready to meet them. We shall revise the results of NTPC and conduct only one exam for Group-D.” This came on the eve of January 27. However, the students see this only as a verbal assurance and still urge the government to include this in the form of a notification.
The government did not refrain from filing charges against the students, even non-bailable offenses. Lathi charge was ordered wherever possible and tear gas shells were also bombed on the protestors in several regions of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Later, when the issue was nationalized and the protestors made calls for a much bigger protest, the government took a backfoot.
Post the incident at the lodge where students were brutally assaulted by the police, the government assured action against the policemen as well. As many as 6 policemen were suspended for assaulting the students. One inspector, two sub-inspectors, and 3 constables had been accused of negligence and the Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya said that action would be taken against the police if found to be guilty. This was when the protests had reached their pinnacle.
Anupam, National President of Yuva Halla Bol spoke to Mojo Story on the government’s response. He said, “We have been fighting for these students for as long as you could see. After these incidents, I even wrote a letter to the sitting railway minister accusing him of negligence. I also mentioned that the students feel insecure about their future, they feel like the government does not care about them.
This is the sole reason why you see protests go to the scale of violence. I had written a letter previously as well back on 12th March 2020. There, I had tried to explain to the Railway Minister the mental state of these 2 Crore 42 Lakh students who had been waiting for an exam date but the government chose to stay ignorant back then, and they remain the same even now. “
The students have now put a halt to their protests. Seeing the situation of the students, several political parties also called for a Bihar bandh on January 28. This included the opposition party RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) , INC (Indian National Congress) and several other parties of the left who took to the streets of state; burnt down tyres shouted slogans and accused the government of negligence. Protests were seen in parts of Lucknow and Prayagraj as well, which had been called by AISA (All India Students’ Association) and other youth wings of the left.
The government formed a committee to work upon the issues of the students and gave it a deadline of March 4. While the govt saw this as a measure to the grievances of the students, many frowned upon it saying that 5 people who were a part of this committee were all from the Railway Board who would side with the government.
Sushil Kumar, a resident of Saharsa, Bihar, and a candidate said, “We do not trust the committee. It will definitely side with the government. If the committee gives a fair result and meets our demands, well and good, if not, the government should be prepared to see a much bigger protest. We are the youth, the government at no cost should be underestimating our power.
We feel like this is an attempt to get away with the Uttar Pradesh elections, the only thing this regime is concerned about is winning elections.” Talking about the stakeholders in the committee, Shushil said, “The government should have included at least one person who is directly associated with us to address our cause. Our teachers who have seen us prepare, who has been with us throughout should have been a part of the committee.”
As of now, everything remains calm while the students wait anxiously for March 4. Until then, they stare at a bleak future
Hrishi Raj Anand is an independent journalist based out of Delhi writing on the issues of marginalization, education, and healthcare.