Indian police fired at an angry mob who set trains on fire yesterday during protests against a new short-term military recruitment scheme that have flared around the country.
Authorities are reeling from a sudden and violent backlash after this week announcing a plan to modernise India’s 1.4mn-strong armed forces that would strip benefits and job security from aspiring soldiers.
Hundreds of protesters stood on rail tracks in the southern city of Secunderabad, burning piles of debris to block passenger services and setting alight carriages on at least four trains.
Officers fired live rounds to disperse the crowd, an AFP photographer at the scene witnessed, with at least one demonstrator wounded in the incident.
Local police and officials in Telangana state could not be reached for comment.
Protests have raged in several cities around the country since Thursday and have been especially fierce in the eastern state of Bihar.
Crowds there have set fire to more than a dozen trains and attacked the residence of the state’s deputy chief minister, as well as offices belonging to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). More than 100 people have been arrested across Bihar, senior police officer Sanjay Singh said.
“Video recordings are being made of protests,” he added. “Protesters will be identified and action will be taken against them.”
Authorities imposed a curfew in Gurgaon, a satellite city of New Delhi, and temporarily closed some metro stations in the capital to stop unrest spreading.
The administration of Gurugram district said no more than four people could gather at one place in an effort to forestall demonstrations. “This order shall come into force with immediate effect,” Gurugram’s administration said in a notice, a copy of which was posted on social media by district’s information department.
While there have been no reports of protests in Gurugram, some demonstrators were out in the neighbouring district of Palwal on Thursday.
Some of the world’s major companies have offices in Gurugram including Microsoft Corp, Meta and Google Inc. It is also home to manufacturing facilities of major Indian companies like Maruti Suzuki.
The “Agnipath” (Path of Fire) scheme aims to induct young adults into the armed forces for four years — a major break from the past, as enlistment is seen as a pathway to a lifetime job.
Only a quarter of the new recruits will be offered permanent positions in the army at the end of the programme, missing out on entitlements enjoyed by existing personnel including pensions.
The system aims to bring in more people to the military on short, four-year contracts to lower the average age of India’s 1.38mn-strong armed forces and cut down on burgeoning pension costs.
Smoke billows from a passenger train coach after it was set on fire by protesters during a protest against “Agnipath scheme” for recruiting personnel for armed forces, in Secunderabad in the southern state of Telangana, India, yesterday.
Smoke billows from a passenger train coach after it was set on fire by protesters during a protest against u201cAgnipath schemeu201d for recruiting personnel for armed forces, in Secunderabad in the southern state of Telangana, India, yesterday.