World in View: India’s unemployment stirs youth revolts

July 12, 2022

From the July-August 2022 issue of News & Letters

by Eugene Walker

India’s economy is supposed to be on track for close to double digit growth this year, perhaps the highest in the world. But such “growth” cannot hide the gravest of contradictions—massive unemployment especially among the youth. “There is a historical disconnect in the Indian growth story, where growth essentially happens without a corresponding increase in employment,” noted Mahesh Vyas, the chief executive of the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy. Recently this has given rise to heightened protests:

Youth gathered to celebrate the birthday of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as ‘National Unemployment Day’ September 17, 2020. Photo: Prajjwal3959, via Wikimedia Commons

* Youth by the thousands took to the streets in the capital, New Delhi, and in multiple states in reaction to a new government edict that will cause a drastic cut in the number of youths who can make the army their career. In a country with hundreds of millions unemployed, the army represents one of the few places of permanent employment.

The new rules mean that only one-fourth of those who join the army will be able to continue after four years. “What will we do after four years? Who will give us a job? Our protests will continue until the government accepts our demands,” notes one protester.

* Earlier this year in the state of Bihar, hundreds of applicants for jobs on the railroad stormed rail stations and burned train cars. Why? Some 12 million people had applied for 35,281 jobs! The protesters were questioning the selection process.

So disconnected is “growth” from real employment that hundreds of millions of people can only survive through the informal economy and distribution of free grain. There is a great divide, with millions in extreme poverty, magnified by the pandemic, while the number of Indian billionaires has reached new heights.

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