| ‘The attraction of Assamese youth to security jobs can perhaps be gauged by looking at long queues on the days of recruitment by the armed forces’ |
Liberalisation in India brought with it many foreign companies which did not know how to deal with the huge floating population in this “unknown” country. Since their offices were more plush, they expected people to walk in if there were nobody at the gate. The Western culture of leaving somebody alone respecting one’s individual privacy was not to be expected. Liberalisation and substantial increase in income for a class of people also gave a boost to the service sector with supermarkets, malls coming in all towns. Thus there was a demand for private security. Not too many people earlier had joined such services nor were there demands for such.
With an increase in opportunities to work even after their retirement, the ex-servicemen put themselves up for such jobs. But the demand was not just for one or two. Each office required a number of such staff. This is where the retired or retiring officers of the services came in — organising offices where the ex-servicemen could enlist themselves. But the demand was so high for such work that the offices started taking in people who wanted to do such jobs. Looking back, this increase in demand was itself a result of almost every company, school, hospital, hotel, supermarket, mall hiring private security instead of depending on the government. It also became a case of prestige to have security; the “haves” with security at their gates. Perhaps this was concomitant of privatisation.
In Assam, too, there were certain other changes in society and economy taking place. The importance of the underground movement/s were going down, some of them having surrendered and others in the process. The attraction for the youth to join such underground groups was on the wane. At the same time there was not much scope for their employment in the industrial as well as service sector. In fact the jobs that came by way of the new industries like the coke factories demanded such hardship that Assam’s youth were not capable of facing.
Agriculture was an unattractive proposition and it will remain one unless there is infusion of modern implements and also new practices with new crops. If our youth can jump into tea cultivation so can they go for other crops too. But then, the forward linkages for crops other than tea have not been established in Assam yet. Where they have been, it is with almost 100 per cent dependence on the Marwari businessmen which is not really an attractive proposition. Nowadays one sees the proliferation of broiler farms because of such forward linkages provided by a few big companies. Here again, the terms and conditions including the price that the farmers are “forced” to agree to should have been more attractive.
Regarding the attraction of Assamese youth to “security” jobs, one can perhaps gauge the same by looking at long queues on the days of recruitment by the armed forces. Only a few of them can get in. Therefore, the army officers who wanted to start security services did not find it difficult to get such people for private security jobs. The dress and the discipline were attractive enough while there was no bribe to be paid. Exploitation was rampant here too but then the officers being local, such things were ignored. Interestingly, some touts did approach some army officers to lend their names for a fee so that such security service agencies could be started — something like the case of pharmacists lending their names to businessmen for a fee to start pharmacies. If one business is successful in Assam then do we need to do anything to promote it? Going by the experience in night supers, PCOs, small tea gardens, dhabas, trekker services — the herd instinct in Assam is so strong that soon there were many security service providers in Assam.
Thus demand and supply both were on the rise. Banks, mobile operators, hotels, hospitals whose number increased by leaps and bounds provided the demand while matching supply was from the hungry youths with their new-found zeal to get a decent living. Perhaps they wanted to get away from home. So when the army officers with their pan-India reach could get contracts outside, our youths were eager to go. Once again the herd instinct led from one youth to 20 in the village, ready to join the “army”.
The recent exodus of such persons from their workplaces has created an uproar — all for the good perhaps. We would not have known that so many of our people have been involved in such positive activities. As somebody pointed out, the outside organisations could have faith on the people from our region speaks volumes about their honesty and good behaviour. One was always doubtful about the honesty of the people from outside the northeastern region. But that their own organisations, too, have similar feelings about them make one feel more proud to belong here.
While we should make all efforts to have these youth join back their jobs, there are certain things that society and the government have to do. One understands that only those people who perceived that there was not much to lose by leaving the job did so. Already there was some bit of apprehension amongst this group as to their future. Unlike the army and other government services, the regular salary enhancement and other perks are not there. With that salary, they can hardly think of settling down in their new localities or even back home. It is our responsibility to find some ways of giving the group a sense of security. The government may have to take up some steps like requesting the companies to provide provident fund, pension, leave facilities as in the case of government/organised sector. There could be a system whereby the persons having completed five years in such service could qualify for employment in the police or other paramilitary forces. Now that the government is aware of such a huge force of dedicated workers, it is time to make some policies.
There could also be a liaison office in all those cities where the number of our youth is more. The better-off people from Assam living in such cities can join hands to take this up. On their off-days, these youth should be able to go to a “home away from home” to share their experiences, to have an Assamese meal or even to celebrate festivals like Bihu. These offices can keep track of the people and also take care of their grievances. Since the group has found their employment without much help from the government, it is time that the government makes available such services for them.
One had also heard about certain problems regarding feeling of loss of security in the pockets which had sent a lot of youth for such security jobs. There were cases where the families of such persons lost their cattle, rice, fish to marauders because there is nobody to defend them. The villagers now realise that those people who used to hang around near the paan shops did provide a sense of security. It is now time to increase the presence of police forces perhaps at the panchayat level since one hardly hears of timely arrival of police to prevent a crime. One of the factors affecting the exodus this time was because of the calls from home for the youth to come back to give protection. Once our villagers feel that there is police protection and of course peaceful environment, then life for these youths who are staying away from home will become less stressful. The time is ripe for the government to work on all fronts — the places of origin and also the places of destination — to keep this comparative advantage of Assam intact.