Published On: Tue, Jun 28th, 2022

Agnipath: For those brought up ‘the Army way’, reset of a childhood dream | India News

JHAJJAR/REWARI: It’s 7 in the morning and Aman Suhag is still sleeping like a log in his room. His neighbours in Bishan are not used to seeing the 17-year-old like this.
Till about two week ago, Aman would get up when the alarm clock sprang to life at 4am. The next hour would be intense cardio – he would hit the village ground and run, timing his laps and stretching his stamina. This would be followed by circuit training till 7am. Aman had been following this regime, morning and evening, day in and day out, for the past five years.


Army aspirants from the village undergo training on the village ground
In the last few days, the flock of early birds has thinned at the ground. Like Aman, who has for the first time turned his attention to proper college education, many other youths too have started looking beyond the Army bubble in their heads after the Centre rolled out the Agnipath scheme for short-term (four-year) recruitments of youngsters in the armed forces.


The ‘Gaurav Patt’, a plaque listing youngsters from Bishan who worked in key posts in the defence services, is installed at the entrance of the village
The scheme has jolted those like Aman because serving in the armed forces is the only goal they have been brought up with – “Beta, Army join karna hai” echoed like an omnipresent surround sound – and they have no clue what they will do after four years. They’ve never thought of anything beyond the military, like acquiring skill sets for the job market.


Aman Suhag (in red) trains on the village ground with other youths
In Bishan, children grow up hearing stories of valour of locals inducted into the armed forces. There is hardly a household that hasn’t sent a member to the Army, Navy or the Air Force. The armed forces here are a way of life that begins much before the actual induction, from middle school itself when preparing for the dream starts. Teenage years are about focusing on bullseye rather than peering into a kaleidoscope of avenues – a relentless drill of diet and discipline, fitness and sharpness.
Aman, who has broken off from this regime, hasn’t given up on the Army dream. But it’s been agonising, he says, adjusting to this reset, a ‘duvidha’ he had never imagined. “It’s a big dilemma. I don’t know whether to go for the Agnipath scheme or try and join the private sector. I have been training since I was in Class 7. The idea was to get into the Army after I pass Class 12. I have three sisters and two younger brothers. I want to secure their future,” says Aman.
The youths of Bishan also carry the burden of expectations on their shoulders – one must land a job by the age of 24, preferably in the armed forces. “I have grown up in a village where one member of each family is either in the Army, Navy or the Air Force. The biggest reason is the financial stability it brings and other perks such as medical facilities, pension, and so on. And more importantly, soldiers command respect everywhere they go,” says Aman, a barrel-chested boy whose grandfather was in the Army.
Almost everyone in this quaint village of 2,500 carries the surname Suhag. A name that charges up youngsters here is of Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, the former Army chief who, too, is from Bishan. “When the teacher asked us in class what profession we would choose when we grew up, I don’t remember anyone saying anything other than joining the armed forces. Our love for the Army has no bounds, but where do we go from here?” asks Rohit Suhag, a Bishan resident.
Recalling the former Army chief’s visit, Sachin Suhag (22), who has been training for the past five years, says, “I was in Class 12 when ‘general saab’ visited the village. I was floored by the love and respect he got. That day itself, I decided joining the Army was the only way to earn respect in this village. I tried once but failed. I want to give it another shot. But no recruitment has happened in these two years of the pandemic.”
Sachin, whose grandfather was a naib subedar, has done his BSc in computer science after the initial disappointment and still has an option to join private companies. But he is worried about his friends, not too many have digressed from preparing for a life in the armed forces to pursue graduation. “They chose to train themselves for the Army instead of going into higher studies,” he says.
Ved Prakash Suhag, a sportsman whose two sons are in the forces, is also at the ground before the first light of dawn, not to practise but to train. He has helped chisel many local youths’ fitness regimes for the ultimate goal. “I have been mentoring them since 2013. Bishan is a small village. We cannot depend on agriculture for livelihood since the land here is too wet. I don’t want children of my village to be unemployed. So, I help them build a career in defence forces,” says Ved Prakash, holding a bamboo cane that he uses on his students when the posture needs to be corrected.
A career in the military is also linked to marriage prospects. “If the groom is a man in uniform, it is mentioned in bold and blue in the wedding cards. People here hesitate to marry off their daughters to a man who is not in the defence services. After all, a father always wants her daughter to be financially secure,” says Ved Prakash.
Bishan’s connection with the Army is as old as World War 1, when it had sent three soldiers. “Youths from our village started joining the Army because educational qualifications were not mandatory then. The families of these soldiers started gaining financially and imparted education to subsequent generations. This is how people here turned to the forces. Patriotism drives us. Financial stability and perks are there too,” says Rajpal, who joined the Air Force in 1973.
Bhakli village in south Haryana’s Rewari, on the Rajasthan border, is no different. Here, too, a cloud of uncertainty hangs on hundreds of youths who have been training for years to join the armed forces.
Among them is Himanshu Yadav (20), who is bitterly disappointed. “Last September, I applied for the Air Force. The medical test was done. The written exam was also announced but cancelled later. Now, I am told all recruitment drives have been put on hold and they would be conducted in keeping with the Agnipath scheme,” says Himanshu, who has stopped physical training and has been looking up coaching centres to prepare for civils. “It’s a really tough one because this was my dream. But resetting the goal is the only option left. I’ll prepare for the civil services,” says Himanshu, whose father was a havildar in the Army. A total of 11 family members, he adds, have served in the forces.
Suresh Kumar, a retired subedar who now runs an institute to train youths for the armed forces, has been advising youths and their parents not to lose hope. “After all, this village has sent so many young men to the Army. I have been asking them to give the Agnipath scheme a shot. If they are selected among the top 25% after four years, they will get full-time jobs. Else, they can return home and start something afresh,” says Kumar.
In neighbouring Kosli, Aditya Kumar says the thought of joining the Army came naturally to him, listening to stories about “shaheedon ka gaanv” (village of martyrs) from childhood. “Every second or third home in our village has a member in the forces and the younger ones are trying to follow in their footsteps,” says Aditya, who began training last year but is now looking at jobs in banking and police. “If I can’t make the top 25% (those from the scheme who will get a long-term commission), I have to come back and look for another job. That will be uncertain,” he says.
Some, however, feel it is better for the youths to join the forces – even if for four years – than just staying in the village in the hope they will land another job. Shyam Yadav, the director of SKG School, says, “Youths either join the forces or stay in the village and fall in the wrong company. It is better that they join the forces. It will instill discipline.”

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