Agnipath scheme: Punjab’s ‘Army’ village wait on an uneasy future

Around four kilometres from the border of neighbouring Haryana lies Khaira Khurd —a small village of around 500 houses and around 2400 votes.

The village, like others in the area, is mostly made up of families that have traditionally been involved in farming. And though not rich on space, Khaira Khurd has always been proud of its rich history of having sent its youngsters to the Army — 130 men from the village are at present serving in the Army.

The Union Defence Ministry’s recent move to make Army recruitments contractual and for a period of four years under the Agnipath scheme, therefore, has come as a bitter pill to swallow for hundreds of Khaira Khurd who had been sweating it out daily in the village with the hope of making the cut into the esteemed Armed forces of the country.

Although relatively untouched by the violence and protest that has so far rocked neighbouring Haryana against the implementation of the scheme, the disappointment is rife among the villagers.

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“More than 130 boys from our village are in the Army already. Khaira Khurd is a village of small and medium farmers, where land divisions cannot be done. So, when the youths from here are married off, either land is considered important or the kind of job the prospective groom does is taken into consideration. Over the years, training hard and getting selected for the Indian Army has been a norm for our village youths. Even now, nearly 200 youngsters are doing physical training daily at the village stadium to prepare themselves for recruitment. Serving the nation has become a part of the lives of our families,” said Sandeep Jyani, a villager.

The disappointment seems to be greater among the youths who had been training daily with the hopes of getting into the Army.

One of them, Vijay Kumar Saharan, 22, said that the new Agnipath scheme has created a lot of stress.

“I have been working hard for selection at the Army recruitment rallies. Earlier due to Covid, recruitments were put on a hold. And now the government has come out with a scheme where they want to recruit us only for 4 years, with only 25% of us getting permanent jobs. Now, a person will always be under stress whether his contract will be renewed or if he will be sent back home after 4 years. I am working hard today for getting a permanent job and not for temporary recruitment for a period of 4 years,” he said.

Rahul Jyani, another 19-year-old, who has been training every morning and evening said, “Using violence as a form of protest is certainly not right. But we have been left majorly disappointed by this move. We are from families of farmers. What will we do after coming back.”

Raj Kumar Rajput, a member of Khaira Khurd panchayat, said, “Here if a farmer has a small piece of land, then he takes care of cultivation, while his son is recruited by and works for the Army. This is how their family works. However, if the son comes back after 4 years then it might trigger problems in the family.”
Satyanarayan, a resident of a nearby village, added, “Even our village of Karandi in Mansa — which is next to Khaira Khurd — has over 100 boys in the Army. In Rajrana village located nearby Naik Rajesh Kumar had been killed in Handwara during an encounter in May, 2020 . He was the son of a marginal farmer with about an acre of land.”

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