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Protests intensify over India military recruitment policy as Bihar suspends Internet services

THE STRAITS TIMES – Protesters in India’s eastern state of Bihar damaged public property and ransacked offices in a railway station yesterday to express outrage at a new military recruitment policy, demanding the government reverse course, officials said.

Thousands of young men attacked train coaches, burned tyres and clashed with officials at the station in one of India’s poorest states.

At least 12 protesters were arrested and at least four policemen were injured, said senior police official in Bihar overseeing law and order Sanjay Singh.

“Around 2,000 to 2,500 people entered the Masaurhi railway station and attacked the forces,” Singh told the media.

The Agnipath or “path of fire” system aims to bring more people into the military on four-year contracts to lower the average age of India’s 1.38 million-strong armed forces and cut burgeoning pension costs, the government said.

Protesters, mainly young men, say the plan will limit opportunities for permanent jobs with the defence forces, which guarantee fixed salaries, pensions and other benefits.

Some retired military officials said the government’s money-saving plan risks eroding the honour of serving the nation and the safety of India.

Reports of sporadic unrest in several parts of India prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to hold meetings to review the policy of hiring soldiers for shorter tenures.

Police officials said yesterday that Internet services are suspended in several parts of Bihar in a bid to stop public gatherings and violent protests over the recruitment plan.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have been blocked in 15 of 38 districts of Bihar, said Singh.