Gahmari Village Had A Thriving ‘Army Culture’, But Not After The Agneepath Scheme

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Gahmari Village Had A Thriving ‘Army Culture’, But Not After The Agneepath Scheme

| Updated: May 10, 2024 10:08

A resident of Gahmar, an army village in Uttar Pradesh's Ghazipur district, said that there is only one reason for the prosperity in the village – the army.

Ghazipur: When the Agneepath controversy erupted two years ago and the scheme faced protests, Indian Army officials had argued that the plan was essential for the modernisation of the army and would help it select better soldiers. Now, The Wire is carrying out a ground investigation of the impact of this scheme in, what are known as, ‘army villages’ around the country.

In its investigation so far, The Wire has found that ever since the implementation of the scheme, a large number of candidates from these areas have stopped preparing for enlistment in the forces.

Gahmar, an army village situated on the southern bank of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghazipur district, is considered to be the largest village in Asia in terms of population. A resident of this village, 76-year-old Ram Lakshan Singh, said that there is only one reason for the prosperity of the village – most of the boys here are in the army. Each house has at least a couple of members in the army and it has brought prosperity and respect in the lives of the villagers. But now everyone is apprehensive about their career after four years of service as an Agniveer. Most importantly, if a lot of eligible candidates give up the idea of joining the army, what kind of youth will the army find, they wonder.

“The army will be negatively affected with the dwindling morale of the boys,” said Ram Lakshan Singh.

Photo: Ashutosh Kumar Pandey

Kunal Singh, a former soldier who runs Rafale Academy in Gahmar, said, ‘This is a unilateral decision of the government. It will have a negative impact on the capability of the army.’

These ex-servicemen claim that when boys are recruited on a four-year contract, it is likely that the army will have fewer aspirants and those who do join will have a dearth of passion and hardly any desire to die for the country. Will the army then be able to find soldiers of required quality and merit?

Subedar Major Markandey Singh, president of the ex-servicemen organisation of Gahmar area, highlights a new aspect. “Some boys from our area joined the army as Agniveers. They are not treated well. Training for using weapons is not offered to them. Army officers do not trust Agniveers. None of them like it there.”

Gahmar is the birthplace of the famous detective novelist Gopal Ram Gahmari and villagers have installed an Ashoka Pillar in his memory. The village has permanent houses and clean drains. The main road to Gahmar from the railway station offers a smooth ride. Army service has given a special identity and culture not only to the households of the soldiers but to the entire area. 

Army culture

Army culture is visible at every step in this village. Localities in the village are named after soldiers. Bhojpuri poet Bholanath Gahmari, who hailed from this village, once wrote, “Whenever there has been a crisis on the country, our soldiers have protected it like their own heart. To protect this country, our soldiers have sacrificed themselves along with their parents, villages and home.”

During the second World War, many soldiers from this village went to fight on different fronts and were martyred. But now, a state of despair is looming over this once-prosperous village with the question of jobs on one hand and the loss of its character and culture on the other.

If boys do not join the army, the social scenario of this village will also change. “If youth do not join the army, this village will no longer belong to soldiers,” said Markandey Singh.

Sitting under a Peepal tree on the Hanuman Chabutra of Thakur-dominated Gahmar village, 20-year-old Deep Singh said, “Due to the Agneepath scheme, the boys here are now looking for other options. What is the use of working for only four years?”

Left: Gathering at the peepal tree; Right: Ram Lakshan Singh

Nearby, some elderly residents sat, playing cards under a tree. Most of them had retired from the army. Subedar Banshidhar Singh (retired), while collecting the cards, told us that he had joined the army in 1953 and remained in service till 1977. “Agneepath Yojana has broken the trust of the youth,” the 89-year-old said.

However, a few others disagree with him. Sixty-year-old Anil Singh had also retired from the post of Subedar. His two sons joined the army before the implementation of Agneepath scheme. “Agneepath is a good plan. The same thing happens in foreign countries,” said Singh.

The people sitting there immediately express their disagreement with him.

Manish Kumar Singh. Photo: By author

“I had qualified the exam in 2021,” said Manish Kumar Singh, who was strolling near a pond in Gahmar. “Medical examination was yet to be done. But then the Agneepath scheme came up and my reinstatement was cancelled. I haven’t thought anything about the future yet” he said, almost teary-eyed, as he narrated his ordeal. 

Another resident of this village, Vinay Kumar Singh, could not join the army due to technical reasons. Pointing to his feet, he said that he practiced for a long time, but did not get enlisted in the army. Today, Vinay is called the “encyclopedia” of the village.

The history of Gahmar has a connection not only with the army but with literature too. The village produced an unmatched novelist and detective story writer – Gopal Ram Gahmari – to Hindi literature. Regarding the Ashoka Pillar installed in the village, Vinay Kumar said that it was not erected by the government but by local villagers in his memory.

One expects temples or water fountains built in someone’s memory, so it is surprising to see the pillar of Emperor Ashoka in this village as memorial structure. Sarnath being close the village, Buddha has had some influence over the region according to villagers.

Ashoka pillar in memory of writer Gopal Ram Gahmari. Photo: By author

Forty two-year-old Dr. Buddha Narayan Upadhyay, organisation minister of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, is also a resident of the village. His father and both his brothers have been in the army. “Agneepath scheme is in the interest of the country,” he said. “It will give all the people of the country, an opportunity to work. There will be a message of unity and harmony.”

Future of village

In response, a young farmer Vivaswan Upadhyay bitterly said, “The future of the village is in danger. What will these boys do now?”

This anger is also apparent on the face of 21-year-old Shivam Singh. “Before the implementation of the Agneepath scheme, boys here used to prepare for the army and do physical practice in the ground. This scheme has ruined the future of the youth almost completely. Now they are roaming around aimlessly. I am about to cross the age limit for joining the army,” he added.  Shivam is the youngest among three brothers. The eldest brother Abhishek Singh is working in the Indian Army and the second brother Mohit Singh is a soldier in CISF.

Subedar Major Markandey Singh says, “Agneepath Yojana has put an end to the dreams of the youth. My village is a village of soldiers. Every year 18-20 boys were recruited from here.” According to him, about 15,000 residents of this village are working in the army and more than 20,000 are retired soldiers.

Local residents claim that their ancestors had participated in the first and second World Wars. They also fought in the Indo-China war of 1962, the wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 and then the Kargil war of 1999.

Ministry data

Defence Ministry data released in the Lok Sabha in February 2022 showed that in 2019-2020, the Indian Army had made the highest number of recruitments (80,572) during the tenure of the Modi government, and the maximum number of recruitments (8,425) was from Uttar Pradesh.

According to the data furnished by the army, since the launch of Agneepath scheme, training of two batches of 40,000 Agniveers has been completed and they have been deployed. In addition, training of a new batch of 20,000 has started from November 2023. During the same period, three batches of 7,385 Agniveers have completed training in the Navy whereas 4,955 Agniveers have received training in the Air Force.

To know about the recruitments done under Agneepath from Ghazipur, The Wire contacted the district administration where officials claimed that they did not have any concrete data about the army recruitment.

Gahmar village comes under Ghazipur Lok Sabha constituency whose current MP is Afzal Ansari. When contacted regarding the matter, he said, “The youth and their parents who dream of joining the army are scared of the Agneepath scheme.”

At around 5.30 pm, some youth are strolling in the Mathiya ground of Gahmar. Kundan Singh is also the president of Mathiya Yuva Samiti Maidan who prepares the grounds for the youth.

He said in an almost frustrated tone, “Earlier, 1500 to 2,000 boys used to practice for physical tests here. Today, there are not even 20 boys. The Agneepath scheme has destroyed their dreams.”

Speaking thus, Kundan Singh left for home with the sun setting and the sky turning dark.

This article was published on The Wire on May 10, 2024

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