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Pangs of Unemployment: Why India's Youth is Turning to Bhagat Singh

While the four have been booked under UAPA, this incident is the most powerful attempt to bring the issue of rising unemployment to national attention.

The parliament breach on December 13 was the result of a plot hatched between four individuals who were aiming to air their plight because of unemployment in the country. Among the four, there was an e-rickshaw driver, a farmer, a government job aspirant and a daily wage worker. They were given the visitors’ pass by Pratap Simha, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Karnataka. The two of them who entered the parliament had hidden the spray bottle used in the break inside their shoes. The breach occurred on the 21st anniversary of the 2001 terror attack on the parliament.

Around the same time, a man and a woman – Amol Shinde and Neelam Azad– sprayed coloured gas from canisters while also shouting slogans like “tana shahi nahi chalegi” outside the parliament premises. Azad is from Haryana’s Jind and has many degrees to her credit, M.A, M.Ed, M.Phil and has also cleared the National Eligibility Test. Yet, she could not get any job. Slogans shouted by them were against dictatorship, for protection of the constitution and rising unemployment. They also shouted ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and ‘Vande Mataram‘.

These individuals were part of a social media group, ‘Bhagat Singh Fans Club’, where they came in contact with each other. Their inspiration for these actions stemmed from socialist revolutionary Bhagat Singh’s similar actions in the central assembly hall in 1929. Bhagat Singh with his friend Batukeshwar Dutt had thrown a bomb from the visitors’ gallery while making sure that nobody was hurt. They also threw leaflets in the assembly against British colonial rule.

Also read: Batukeshwar Dutt: A Working Class Revolutionary’s Life

While the four people have been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), this incident is the most powerful attempt to bring the issue of rising unemployment to national attention.

As a recall, Bhagat Singh and his comrades had resorted to this method as they knew that their voice would not be carried by the media. There is an uncanny similarity to the current situation where the ‘mainstream’ media, appropriately called ‘Godi media’, is totally apathetic to the concerns of the common people. The problems of rising prices, poverty and unemployment has not been its concern at all.

When Modi was campaigning in 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised that they would be creating 20 million (two crore) jobs per year. The real picture has been the complete opposite. The first major blow to employment came with demonetisation when crores of workers lost their jobs in the small-scale rural sector. In most of the unorganised sectors, working hours have gone up from eight to 12 hours per day. Meanwhile, the founder of Infosys, N.R. Narayana Murthy, advocated for 70-hour work weeks.

A report in the Economic Times pointed out that “the overall rate (of unemployment) rose to 10.05% in October from 7.09% in September and [it was] the highest since May 2021. Rural unemployment jumped to 10.82% from 6.2%, while the urban rate eased slightly to 8.44%”.

“Last month, Indian tech-services outsourcing firms, including Infosys and Wipro, announced plans to halt hiring of college graduates, potentially leaving thousands of fresh engineering students without jobs,” the newspaper reported.

This is taking place against the backdrop of shrinking democratic spaces for protest; the universities are preventing the student unions’ elections and blocking the seminars which may be critical of government policies.

Also read: Bhagat Singh Is Not the Man the Right Wants You to Think He Is

While it is an open-and-shut case of frustrated students or youth expressing their anguish, albeit through wrong means, the government has levied the draconian charge of UAPA against them.

Shaheed Bhagat Singh. Credit: Traditional image

Rahul Gandhi attributed the attack to rising unemployment and inflation while the home minister has not made any statement in parliament, despite the opposition demanding it. Prime Minister Modi, rather than seeing the obvious, said that this act is a “serious breach” and there is a need to find the elements behind it.

It is true that the chink in the armour of the security system in parliament has been exposed; it’s vulnerable to even minor attempts like that of these young individuals. On the other hand, it has highlighted the need to address the issue of unemployment rather than seeing it as some sort of a conspiracy.

It is clear these individuals are not part of any terror group. Mercifully, none of the involved youth is a Muslim, neither do they belong to any terror-related organisation. The latter would have given an unfortunate boost to the efforts of those out to intensify Islamophobia.

The incident should serve as a reminder that it is not enough to just pay lip service to Bhagat Singh. Singh’s concern for the deprived sections of society needs to be highlighted. Let us remember that mass movements were central to his ideology. The path of violence was abandoned by him. He had come to the conclusion that we can achieve independence only through mass mobilisation.

In 1929, his attack was intended solely to make the ‘deaf hear,’ not to harm anyone. It is heartening to note that our youth are turning to Bhagat Singh for guidance in the current troubled times and that many groups in the name of Bhagat Singh have sprung up.

The entire episode should be approached with the right spirit, unlike the attempts by Godi media to portray them as villains. The aim of the youth is crystal clear; their inspiration is not from any ideology of terror but from the greatest revolutionary of our freedom struggle.

While there’s no doubt that the four adopted a wrong method, their anguish should be recognised. Their aim of revising our ‘employment generation’ policy needs to be given a serious look, rather than searching for a conspiracy.

Ram Puniyani is president of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism.