20-something Shabana Siddiqui, a resident of Chitrakoot district in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh, nationally known for its religious tourism and nothing much else, qualified her BEd in 2012, with “acche khaase 70% marks (pretty decent score of 70%)”. She then sat for the Junior TET (Teacher Eligibility Test) thrice, and qualified. In 2015, she also passed her MEd exams and this time, did extremely well ranking among the state’s top 20. When we meet her recently, shortly after chief minister Adityanath announced a sorry lack of skillful youth in the state he leads, Siddiqui is plainly unamused. “Vacancies come and we apply and then god knows who actually gets the post. Considering I’ve been a rank-holder, shouldn’t it count for something? Shouldn’t I have at least got a job by now?” she asks.
But holding a rank seldom implies anything by way of a regular income, it would appear at least in UP, where the employment stats are not only mind-boggling, but also mind-numbing. With a population of 21 crores – that’s almost one-sixth of the country’s janta – it does not perhaps come as a complete shock that there are large numbers of unemployed warm bodies, but the desperation revealed in the numbers, is unarguably bone-chilling.
Consider the infamous episode of 2015, when a call was put out for 368 positions of peons, which saw a tsunami of a response across the state. While the call was essentially targeting those who had studied till Class V, amongst the 23 lakh applicants were 13 lakh applicants who had studied between Classes VI to X, 1.52 lakh graduates and post-graduates and even 255 PhD’s.
Cut to just about two weeks ago, when the job call for 62 messenger posts in UP police, again with a Grade V pass eligibility, saw applicants that included 3,700 PhD holders, 50,000 graduates and 28,000 post graduates.
The main reason for the overqualified yet under-employed syndrome being turned on its head, is of course, money. With an attractive starting salary of Rs 20,000 per month, the calls are bound to catch the attention of potential candidates desperate for any means to make a living.
It’s what led Mahmud Khan of Banda district in Bundelkhand, who has been trying to get a government job, any job, on mis-adventures across the state. From Kanpur to Lucknow, Allahabad and Gorakhpur, Khan has been actively engaged in the drill of “online form bharo (fill up an online form), pay the online guy, print the form and admit card. Submit it.” Just the “bhaada-kiraaya (rent and expenses)” Khan spent in travel and transport forced him to give it up. “I have been at it since 2010. You need to pay at least Rs 1,500 per form.” How many forms has he submitted? “About 150, I’d say,” he says, softly.
Monica, also from Chitrakoot, who passed her MEd in 2017, has a rant. “I’m just sitting at home. All teachers’ vacancies just get stuck and then they say there aren’t enough teachers. You tell me. I have done my MEd, am I not eligible to be a teacher in UP?” And meanwhile Suresh of Banda, who runs a small shop, has a rhetoric of his own, “See, there’s no space for everyone – that we can understand. But what about those who deserve it? Karna waale toh bahut hain na, unka kya? (There are so many who want to work and can, what about them?).”
Meanwhile, the numbers tell a sorry story. For every 1,000 people in UP, 39 are unemployed, and the state’s Labour and Employment Minister Swami Prasad Maurya had confirmed in the Uttar Pradesh legislative council that there are more than 21 lakh registered unemployed people in the state. Replying to a question raised by Congress legislator Deepak Singh in August, Maurya had said, “The number of jobs in the government sector are limited, while in the private sector the numbers are very high. The state government organised Investors’ Summit in February this year, and in a span of four months projects worth Rs 60,000 crore have started. If the conditions are favourable, then we will give jobs to 33 lakh persons.”
But Rani of Lalitpur has something else to ask of Adityanath and his almost-brutal comment on the youth of UP. “Wasn’t he the one who spoke about education in UP? Of improving conditions so that the youth of the state can work for their futures, and the state as well? But now what? Instead of keeping his promise and thinking about our futures, he’s blaming us as being incapable. Yeh toh wohi baat hui, apna kaam banta, bhaad mein jaaye janta (This is that same logic – let’s get our work done, let the public go to hell),” she adds, quoting a popular Salman Khan dialogue/track.
Khabar Lahariya is a rural, video-first digital news organisation with an all-women network of reporters in eight districts of Uttar Pradesh.