Sat Singh | May 12 | 6 min read
From study abroad to private jobs and even mine labour, boys in this Haryana village explore new avenues following the introduction of Agnipath Scheme, which puts a four-year restriction on Army service
Charkhi Dadri, Haryana: The nondescript village of Chandeni in Haryana’s Charkhi Dadri district recently hit the headlines after son of the soil Anurag Sangwan topped the prestigious National Defence Academy entrance examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission.
The village with 600 households and 3,000 people has the distinction of sending hundreds of faujis (soldiers) to serve the motherland. In fact, its relation with the Indian Army dates back to the British era, when faujis from this village participated in the World Wars. Post-Independence, many fought in the Indo-Pak, Indo-China, and Kargil wars.
A bumpy ride on a narrow link road takes one to Chandeni, located around 25 km from Charkhi Dadri district headquarters. Agriculture is the oldest occupation of the place, with cotton and wheat being the main crops. However, with the share of cultivable lands dwindling and most families holding one acre or less, people are taking up government and private jobs or working as mine labourers.
Shaky mobile connectivity is the first change that one notices on reaching the dusty village, where farmers are seen harvesting their mustard crop and sowing cotton. A statue of Satyawan Singh, a martyred para-commando, establishes the Army connection right at the village entrance. At the memorial, sarpanch Raj Singh Sangwan could be seen waiting for this reporter, along with a group of elderly men.
“Welcome to Chandeni — the land of soldiers,” announces an affable Raj Singh (65). “Our village is a goldmine of talent. Besides soldiers, we have at least 15 commissioned officers serving in the Indian Army and as many retired hands. Two of our boys have entered the Indian Administrative Service, while 20 doctors work at different locations. If 600 soldiers from this village are part of the Army, there are 300 pensioners also. It shows our passion for the olive uniform,” he adds.
Downtick in craze for the uniform
For a long time, joining the Indian Army has been every child's dream. By the age of eight, most of them would have a set routine of going to the panchayat-operated village stadium and gymnasium to run and exercise. Retired Army personnel also train them by introducing a tough exercise regime. As years passed, girls also began to use the stadium. However, of late, defence jobs are losing their sheen.
Amit Sangwan (20), who was seen sweating it out on the village playground, told 101Reporters that he also aspired to make it to the Indian Army, but not anymore. He is now preparing to crack exams related to other government institutions, including the Defence Research and Development Organisation.
“For the last six to eight years, I have been working hard for selection as an Army sepoy. But the halt on recruitment due to the pandemic and the launch of Agnipath Scheme that came with the provision of four years’ service dashed my hopes,” says Amit, who has completed class 12 in non-medical stream.
He said he had applied during two Army recruitment rallies, but had failed in both. “Things are really difficult for soldier aspirants. Their struggle is much more than that of officer rank aspirants.”
Amit believes things have changed socially as well. “What will the future hold forth for agniveers after four years? Earlier, upon getting an Army job, there will be a flurry of marriage proposals for the boy. But now, due to the temporary nature of the job under the Agnipath, many hesitate,” he explains.
Sachin Sangwan (24), who had trained for the last five years for an Army job, echoes Amit. “I am preparing for a fireman’s job. Agnipath Scheme dashed my dreams. What is the future of agniveers after four years? If they will be absorbed in the Army, it is fine. Otherwise, they will have to struggle afresh for a job,” he reasons.
Citing the impact the scheme had on his family, Chandeni resident Suresh Chowkidar says his sons Ajay and Deepak have started working as labourers at a mining zone in Charkhi Dadri. “Otherwise, what will work with this four-year service? We have a family to run, so mine labour seems like a better option now. It made sense when the faujis had a 20-year service tenure, but not anymore,” he rues.
Like individuals and families, coaching institutions have also been affected. Manish Kumar runs one of the largest coaching institutes for Army aspirants in the state under the brand name AMS in Rohtak. He attests that the number of aspirants has reduced significantly, following the introduction of Agnipath Scheme.
"Each of our batches used to have more than 100 students, but there are only a few takers now. Most of the youth have switched over to institutes that can help them study in countries such as the US, Canada and Australia,” he says.
“Yes, I am taking coaching classes for the IELTS [International English Language Testing System] exam, to explore opportunities in a foreign land. I plan to settle down within the next four years. Hopefully, my career will take off by then. If I chose to become an agniveer, there will be a question mark on my employment prospects after four years of service," surmises Ankit Kumar (23) from Hisar district, who had trained relentlessly for four years to become a defence personnel.
However, Hukam Singh (70), a retired Nayak Subedar from Rajputana Rifles, could not help but point to the change in attitude over the generations. “The Army had always been the first love for the youth of Chandeni. The first words their mothers spelt out after giving birth was 'I have given birth to a fauji'… Youth would hit the ground before sunrise to practice. No other thoughts crossed their mind. Nowadays, not many come to the ground," says Hukam, who retired from service a decade ago.
For villagers, loss of fauji uniform is not the only challenge. The struggle for potable water is evident in Chandeni. Charkhi Dadri district borders Rajasthan, where land is semi-arid. “The government borewell is simply not enough. Each household has to shell out Rs 300 to the private suppliers to meet its drinking water requirement,” informs Sumitra Devi, a woman in her 50s.
Most of the villagers live in pucca houses, built in their farmlands to monitor the growing crops round-the-clock. Electricity is available for 16 to 18 hours in the day.
Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli
Cover photo - The panchayat-operated gymnasium inside the stadium in Chandeni in Haryana’s Charkhi Dadri district (Photo - Sat Singh, 101Reporters)
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