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Big Story: Unemployment Becomes a Poll Issue
On February 8, two job seekers threatened to immolate themselves in front of the Kerala Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram. They poured kerosene on themselves even as hundreds of their counterparts, who raised high-pitched slogans, looked on. Among them was Laya Rajesh, a young woman job aspirant. Unable to cope with the situation she broke down, putting her head on a friend’s shoulder. The image went viral on social media. Laya soon became the target of cyberbullying from those who believed that she was waging a fight against the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government when the Assembly election is round the corner.
Protests by unemployed youths have been raging in Kerala’s capital city since January 26. It was started by those who aspire to become last grade servants in the government sector. The agitation grew in strength with those who are in with a chance to get jobs in police and education departments joining the movement.
The Kerala Public Service Commission (KPSC) conducts recruitment tests for government sector jobs in Kerala. The examinations are highly competitive because of the high unemployment rate among educated youth. For example, those who passed Class 10 could become last grade servants, such as sweepers and office attendants. But professional graduates, post-graduates and even those who completed PhDs often find a place in the list of qualified candidates from which the appointments will be carried out. This list is known as the 'rank list'.
Those who made it to the 'rank list' and their relatives are participating in the ongoing agitation, demanding extension of the validity of the ‘rank lists’ and measures to speed up appointments.
They were obviously irked by the poor rate of appointments.
Sample this. The KPSC had prepared a list of 46,285 people for the last grade servants' job in 2018. Of them, only 5,524 were appointed so far. The appointment rate was just above 10 per cent.
Only 8,314 people got jobs from the rank list of 36,783 for the lower division clerks.
What intensified the agitation was the move to regularise 2,336 contract employees, who completed 10 years in service, in various departments and government-funded entities. The government’s contention was that the regularisation was carried out on humanitarian grounds.
The government’s insensitive approach aggravated the situation. Instead of listening to job aspirants, it alleged that they were playing to the tune of the Opposition.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan ignored the agitation for more than three weeks. Finally, when he spoke out, he ruled out any talks with the protesters. Besides, he urged them not to fall into the Opposition's trap.
Finance Minister Thomas Isaac toed the chief minister’s line. He accused that the protesters had become pawns in the Opposition's political game.
The insensitive statements added fuel to the fire and invoked sharp responses.
This is not a political agitation for us, Laya Rajesh had told the journalists in Thiruvananthapuram. "This is a protest to live. We took great pains to clear the examination. We are not ready to prostrate before ministers and political party leaders," she said.
The agitation has once again buttressed the fact that unemployment is a major socio-political issue in Kerala. This has been proven by the robust government data.
The 2020 Kerala Economic Review, quoting the National Statistical Office, states that unemployment among educated persons above 15 years of age is 16.2 percentage in Kerala. This is way above the national average of 11.0 per cent.
The review states that youth account for 23 per cent of the Kerala population. And unemployment rate among youth is 35.8 in rural Kerala while it is 34.6 per cent in urban areas.
The protests also brought back memories of the agitations organised by youth brigades of the CPM – Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) – and the CPI – All IndiaYouth Federation (AIYF) – in the late 80s demanding jobs. But the tall CPM leaders appear to be keen on ignoring history.
DYFI had organised massive protests in 1986 demanding jobs when the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) was in power, which turned bloody after police resorted to firing and baton charge to disperse the activists in several parts of the state.
The LDF had capitalised on the youth anger and came back to power in 1987 promising five lakh jobs.
The current agitation is expected to intensify in the coming days, thanks to the government’s reluctance to engage with the protesters. This has given a good opportunity for the Opposition – which until recently was harping on the Sabarimala women’s entry issue – to corner Pinarayi Vijayan’s government. And the issue will figure prominently in the Assembly election too.
...And There is More to the Story
This four-part series by Malayala Manorama reporters Renji Kuriakose, Jayan Menon, Jayachandran Ilankath, MR Harikumar, V R Prathap, Manoj Kadampad, Joji Simon, KP Safina and Nidheesh Chandran explores how thousands of people are forced to wait for a job while those with political backing secures government jobs.
Curated Poll Stories