Where do the youth who breached Parliament feature in India’s unemployment stats?

“The youth are desperate – we have to focus on this issue, give jobs to the youth,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said while speaking about the Parliament breach incident, in which the accused were primarily unemployed youth.
L-R: Neelam, Sagar Sharma, Manoranjan, Lalit Jha, Amol Shinde
L-R: Neelam, Sagar Sharma, Manoranjan, Lalit Jha, Amol Shinde
Written by:
Edited by:

Of the six persons accused in the security breach incident at the Parliament complex on the anniversary of the 2001 Parliament attack on December 13, four have been charged with the draconian anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. While a few mainstream media outlets have also framed the incident as a ‘terror attack’, media interviews with the accused's families and friends suggest that a common thread among four of these youngsters was their status of unemployment or underemployment. 

Neelam Azad, one of the accused who raised slogans against “tanashahi (dictatorship)” outside the Parliament building while holding smoke canisters, said, “Whenever we try to fight for our rights, we are lathi-charged and detained. We had no other way. We are not from any organisation, we are ordinary people, students, unemployed youth. Our parents are hard-working labourers, farmers, and small traders. But we are not heard, our voices are suppressed.”

While the official probe’s findings are yet to emerge, the dissatisfaction over inadequate job opportunities among the four accused is unmissable. And this is not the only time in recent years that unemployed youth in the country have expressed their discontent in a way that could not be ignored. In January 2022, thousands of job aspirants held agitations over alleged irregularities in recruitment, burning down several railway coaches, mainly in Bihar. 

The Indian Railways is among the world’s biggest employers, and so is the Indian Armed Forces. Months after the agitations over the Railways recruitment, in June 2022, similar protests erupted again over the controversial Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces, this time in several states across India including Telangana. Under the scheme, candidates are recruited only for a four-year term, after which only 25% would be retained. Following the protests, the government had raised the upper age limit from 21 to 23 for that year alone. Amol Shinde (25) from Maharashtra, among the accused in the Parliament breach case, had been looking for other recruitment options as he had crossed this age limit, said his father who is a farm worker in Latur. Amol wanted a job in the Army or police but was frustrated over failed attempts, his father told Times of India.

In Neelam’s home state, Haryana, a debate erupted in January this year between the ruling  BJP-Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) coalition and the Opposition Congress, over a report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a private think tank. The report had found that in December 2022, Haryana had the highest unemployment rate in India of 37.4%, against the national unemployment rate of 8.3%. According to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) Annual Report for 2021-2022 conducted by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, however, Haryana’s unemployment rate in that year was 9%, way higher than the national rate of 4.1%. Haryana’s was also the fifth highest unemployment rate nationwide, along with Manipur, after Lakshadweep, Goa, Kerala, and Nagaland. 

In the 2022-23 PLFS report, Haryana’s unemployment rate fell considerably to 6.1% (against a national rate of 3.2%). But it was still fifth after Lakshadweep, Goa, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Kerala. 

PLFS shows that India’s unemployment rate has fallen steadily from 6.1% in 2017-18 (the year it was launched) to 3.2% in 2022-23. But in October 2023, the same month that the latest PLFS was released, CMIE data revealed India’s unemployment rate had shot up to 10.05%, the highest in over two years. Rural unemployment jumped to 10.82% from 6.2%, while the urban rate eased slightly to 8.44%, the CMIE data showed according to a Bloomberg report. It also mentioned that economists have come to rely on CMIE data, which is based on monthly surveys of over 1.7 lakh households, “for a better assessment of the labour market” relative to the annual PLFS. 

A recent study by Lokniti-CSDS also found that 36% of Indians aged 15 to 34 see unemployment as the biggest problem in the country, up by 18 percentage points compared to a similar survey in 2016. 

According to media reports, Neelam (37), had finished her MPhil and cleared the Haryana Teacher Eligibility Test (HTET) as well as the National Eligibility Test (NET), but was unable to find a teaching job with the government. She had reportedly been preparing for competitive exams in Delhi for the past few months. Like she told the media while being detained, she comes from an ‘ordinary’ family, with a father who is in the business of making sweets and brothers who are milk vendors. Her mother told Indian Express that Neelam was depressed that despite her education, she was unable to find a job. 

BJP’s IT cell in-charge Amit Malviya called Neelam, who was earlier part of the farmers’ and wrestlers’ protests against the Union government, an ‘andolanjeevi’ – a derogatory term coined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for frequent anti-government protesters. “These parasites feast on every protest,” Modi had said in the Parliament in 2021. 

Another accused Sagar Sharma (25) was forced to stop his education after Class 12, just like Amol Shinde. The son of a carpenter in Lucknow, Sagar had moved to Bengaluru for work in 2018 but returned amid the COVID pandemic, and had been driving a rented e-rickshaw for the past few months, ToI reported. While his social media posts and diary entries suggest he was influenced by Bhagat Singh and Che Guevara, he had also reportedly criticised the education system in India among other issues. 

Manoranjan D (33), who had released the coloured smoke from canisters inside the Lok Sabha along with Sagar, is an engineering graduate from Mysuru who earlier worked with an IT company in Bengaluru but is currently helping his father with farm work. 

In their latest book Breaking the Mould: Reimagining India's Economic Future, former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan and Rohit Lamba note how in the year before the COVID pandemic, agricultural employment increased by 3.4 crore while industry and services employment only grew by 93 lakh. “In the last few years, the fraction of the labour force in agriculture has increased for the first time in many decades — extremely unusual in a fast-growing developing country,” suggesting that India is going “backwards.”

What do these percentages, which go up and down every month, say about the lives of people like Neelam, Amol, Sagar and Manoranjan?

Citing unemployment figures from both PLFS and CMIE, the book points out that around 3.5 to 4 crore Indians of working age who are looking for jobs are unable to find one. But often, these numbers may not even count youngsters like Neelam, who was preparing for competitive exams, or Manoranjan, who was helping his father on his farm, as the book explains. “The unemployment rate only counts those who are unemployed and looking for jobs. If you are unemployed but not looking for a job — for example, a twenty-two-year-old preparing for civil services exams or a thirty-five-year-old who has given up looking — you are not counted. Moreover, five people manning a small retail store or tilling a small field, when only two would be sufficient, is disguised unemployment, but each one is counted as employed.”

India’s labour force participation rate (LFPR) – the percentage of population working or seeking work – was 42% in 2022-23 according to PLFS. Raghuram Rajan and Rohit Lamba’s book points out that the LFPR in countries such as Brazil (63%), Indonesia (67%), and OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries (60%) is considerably higher than India’s (51%), as World Bank data shows. The book also raises concern over women’s participation in the labour force being much lower than that of men. As of 2022, India’s female labour force participation rate at 27% was lower than Saudi Arabia’s (34.5%). 

Youth unemployment (15 to 24 years age group) in India, which was 19% in 2010, is at 23% in 2022 as per International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates (after seeing a drastic spike in 2020 amid the pandemic). 

Even PLFS figures show that unemployment is higher among young people (aged 15 to 29 years) compared to the figures for all ages. In 2022-23, the unemployment rate among this age group in India was 10%. 

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute