Sarkari Naukri. Government job. These are the two words you hear most often inside Aryan Civil Academy. It is one of many coaching centres that dot the Sigra locality of Varanasi. Sigra is not quite a spiritual experience. In fact, its appeal lies in its disarming celebration of everydayness. It is close to markets and temples, bus-stop and railway station, littered with ‘tiffin’ shops and hotels promising comfort at budget rates.
Sigra is famous for its warren of coaching centres. The acronyms emblazoned on their signboards — IAS, PCS, SSC, Bank — offer ample clue to what the classes offer.
Outside, the big stories of Prime Minister Modi’s mega road journey in his constituency, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s show of strength, and the ‘New India’ campaign dazzle poll watchers. Inside these centres, the little stories unfold, of young people huddled in classrooms, chasing the one dream that glitters, a government job, no matter how small.
Go past the cycles parked haphazardly on the footpath, past a grocery store, past a dangling wire and clutter of signs, down a narrow corridor, and you are inside AryanCivilAcademy with its faded yellow walls. A teacher in a grey checked shirt and black trousers is speaking. Within these drab, unpretentious surroundings, big dreams are nurtured. As Priya Chaube, 24, says: “Once you have a government job, life is made.” All Chaube wants is a clerical job, in any government institution, and this will be her first attempt. The competitive exams attract millions of job-seekers. “I hope I succeed at first shot,” she says.
Sanjay Kumar, 26, has never had a job. After graduation, he has only attended various coaching classes. “I have made it to the interview stage a few times. So far, no luck. I worry about growing old,” he says.
Abhishek Singh, also in his 20s, is bitter that political parties promise jobs just when elections are due. “Typically, the government announces vacancies just before the polls. Sometimes, the deadlines for applying are too tight. We need time to prepare. We can’t afford to pay for coaching for years.”
Even as the government assiduously plays down unemployment figures, coaching centres in Uttar Pradesh reveal the poignant face of the job crisis that confronts urban, educated youth from not-so-well-off backgrounds. A CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) report points out that the unemployment rate among graduates and post-graduates has been rising steadily since mid-2017, reaching 13.2% in September-December 2018.
It’s not as if everyone dreams of joining the IAS, for which the annual coaching fee is ₹35,000. Most youngsters aspire for any administrative post in the government, for which coaching fees are ₹10,000 a year. Last year, newspapers reported that about 3,700 Ph.D. students were among the nearly one lakh people applying for 62 ‘messenger’ jobs in the police department in Uttar Pradesh.
Umesh Varma has a Ph.D. and is the amiable proprietor of Aryan Civil Academy. He took several shots at clearing the IAS exam, until finally settling for the coaching class business.
This craving for a government job is a constant, says Varma. “I am from a village. The mood is grim there. Things have become much worse after the 2016 demonetisation. My business has been affected. The youngsters who come to my coaching centre are mostly from ordinary rural backgrounds. They have to pay fees and bus and train fares. They hope to get a secure government job one day. But if the government does not fill all its vacancies, how will we survive,” asks Varma, as we slowly sip sweet tea.
What about the government’s promise of a new India where people seek to be job creators rather than job seekers? “To start a business, you need experience and capital. If we had all that, we would not be here,” says one student. India’s failure to provide enough jobs for its educated youth is one of its biggest tragedies.
“This craving for a government job, any government job, among young people in Uttar Pradesh is understandable,” says Dr. Nisha Srivastava, Professor of Economics at the University of Allahabad. “There is hardly any industry here. The kind of private sector jobs available in places like Delhi or Mumbai or the more industrialised states simply do not exist here. Low-end private sector jobs pay badly and there is no security. Naturally, people want government jobs.”
In Kanpur’s Jeevan Institute, one hears the same story of desperation and longing. The coaching centre operates out of a basement in Kachairi Road in the Civil Lines area. It caters to IAS aspirants as well as youngsters looking for low-level administrative jobs in government.
Kuldeep Kumar is a pale young man. “Shall I tell you my original age? It is 33. But my official age is 30. I have never worked. Most of us here don’t come from well-off families. We just want a fixed salary, a secure job, even a small-time government job with a guaranteed income of ₹15,000 to 20,000 a month…” his voice trails off.
The yawning gap
The younger ones are more optimistic. Ankita Tandon, 20, a B.Com graduate in a yellow kurta, takes computer classes for children for ₹2,000 a month. “This is Kanpur,” she says. “Small-time jobs don’t pay.” Half her meagre earnings go in coaching fees. “I give myself a year,” she says. “If I don’t get a government job, I will explore other options.”
Economics professor Srivastava points to the yawning gap between demand and supply in government jobs. “Whatever is happening is a mere trickle. Exam papers are leaked. Someone appeals for a stay order. Many times, you have to reappear for the exam. Sometimes, it takes years for results to be announced. Young people from poor families simply don’t have the cushion to hang on.”
For women, the government job brings a different promise. In Kannauj district’s Behrin Village, Kunti Kushwaha, 18, is a first-year college student from a farming family. “Do you think village girls will be allowed to take up private sector jobs,” she asks, smiling. In Phulwaria, a poor neighbourhood in Varanasi, a 24-year-old Muslim woman says, “If I get a government job, it will be easier to convince my parents to let me work.”
Here in the back roads of Uttar Pradesh, the contrast between the glamour of ‘New India’ and the stories of the little people who are not visible in political conversations is very stark.