NAGPUR, Maharashtra — On Monday, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led union government decided to earmark 10% of government jobs for all economically weaker people, but in the Siddharth library in Nagpur, the news was met with bemusement.
“Reservation doesn’t mean employment,” said Ashwajit Janbandhu, who worked for four years at a software firm before taking time off to study in a bid to land a government job.
“Look at our libraries,” said Janbandhu, who studies at the Siddhartha library. “Hundreds of students come here to study and many of them have been preparing for last so many years.”
In the recent round of examinations, he noted, over 2 crore people applied for 62,000 vacancies in the Indian Railways — implying a success-rate of a third of a percentage.
“This reservation will be of no use because the gap between the number of applicants and vacancies is widening fast,” Janbandhu concluded.
Each day, hundreds of aspirants stream into north Nagpur’s public libraries, maintained by the city municipal corporation, take a seat along the long plywood tables in the reading rooms, and prepare for the punishing competitive exams necessary to land even the junior-most government jobs.
Many of the aspirants are Dalits, implying they are eligible for jobs reserved under the scheduled caste quota. Many are well-qualified professionals who have given up private sector jobs for a shot at the security and stability a government job can offer. But most are surprised by the intense competition for every seat.
Their experiences belie the common misconception that reservations imply sure-shot employment, and suggest that the government’s decision to reserve 10% of jobs for economically backward dominant castes is a purely political stunt.
Nagpur’s libraries offer a window into the widespread disaffection over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s failure to fulfill a central promise of his 2014 campaign: jobs for all.
Why a govt job is sought after
Three years ago, 28-year-old Sneha Meshram left her attractive job as a data manager in Toyota Auto to prepare for competitive exams to get into a government job.
The selection ratio has drastically reduced in the last three-four yearsSneha Meshram
An engineering graduate, Meshram, who is a Dalit, thought that she would crack any exam of recruitment for various posts in banks — particularly because she could apply for jobs on seats reserved for scheduled castes.
“The perception was that banking exams are easier and regular with many vacancies. I quit my job and began preparing for banking entrance exams,” Meshram told HuffPost India.
She began frequenting the Ram Manohar Lohia library situated in north Nagpur area for studies. Three years later, she is yet to get a job.
“The selection ratio has drastically reduced in the last three-four years,” Sneha explained. “Even passing ratio is decreasing every year, but the difficulty level of the exams is increasing.”
Pallavi Yewle, a software engineer, has also been studying in Ram Manohar Lohia library along with Sneha for the banking entrance exam since 2015.
Yewle said many of her friends have been preparing for competitive exams even after completing M.Tech.
There are many reasons why the young people thronging north Nagpur’s libraries favour government jobs over private ones. For young women like Meshram and Yewle, a government job is the one way to ensure their independence even after marriage.
“We want to be independent, but our in-laws might ask us to quit a private job. They will never ask us to leave a government job,” said Smita Raut, who taught at a private engineering college before beginning the preparations for competitive exams.
Janbandhu, the former software developer, left his job when his employer abruptly transferred him to Orissa without prior notice. The current state and central governments, he said, had cut back on hiring.
“The recruitment drives and competitive exams were more during the previous government’s regime,” Janbandhu said. “There were no exam fees for SC and ST category during the previous government’s regime, but now even SC-ST candidates have to pay Rs 250 for every exam.”
People with PhDs are joining our libraries now, which is scary and indicates towards a crisis in employment sectorAkash Rangari, a humanities graduate
Up until 2014, more than 40 students would be selected for government jobs from the Siddhartha library study rooms, he said. “This year, the number was down to 22.“
Engineers versus others
The job seekers at Nagpur’s libraries offer another reason why those hoping the proposed reservation will result in jobs are likely to be disappointed: mathematics.
Over the years, the mathematics paper has become the key differentiator between candidates — largely because of the surfeit of unemployed engineers.
“Nagpur or Vidarbha is not an IT hub so there are very few IT jobs here,” said Yewle. “The salary is as low as Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000 in some of the IT parks in Nagpur. Plus work timings are erratic and there is no job security. Even if you shift to Pune, Bangalore or Hyderabad, the living cost there would mean you can hardly save anything.”
A consequence is that many engineers are applying for even clerical positions in government jobs.
“Even a group D exam has questions of engineering level whereas the required qualification is only 10th standard,” said Priyanka Singh, an electronic engineer who has been trying to become a bank clerk for two years now. “I am attempting every exam because the vacancies are reducing every year and the number of applicants is increasing.”
Akash Rangari, a humanities graduate who frequents the Ram Manohar Lohia library, said the influx of engineers was alarming.
“If an engineering graduate or an MBA competes with a history or commerce graduate, obviously those with an engineering background will stand a better chance since they are good in mathematics,” Rangari said. “Most of the competitive exams nowadays stress on mathematical aptitude.”
“People with PhDs are joining our libraries now, which is scary and indicates towards a crisis in employment sector,” Rangari said.