- Several ex-servicemen from a village in Satara have supported Agnipath scheme
- Satara in Maharashtra is known for having at least one member of every family in the armed forces
- The village named Apshinge is also known as Apshinge Military for its contribution to armed forces
Even as violent protests are being witnessed over the Centre's Agnipath scheme in parts of the country, several ex-servicemen from a village in Maharashtra' Satara, known for having at least one member of every family in the armed forces, have supported the recruitment plan, saying it would not only provide an employment opportunity to youngsters, but also open up several avenues for them.
The village named Apshinge, located around 15 kms from Satara city, is also known as Apshinge Military for its contribution to the armed forces. For generations virtually every home in this village has someone serving in the army.
The veterans in the village say that local youths, aspiring to join the armed forces, are approaching them to know what the Agnipath scheme was all about, and they are being provided guidance.
"Though there are protests going on in some parts of the country over the Agnipath scheme, we, as a village, are positive about it and think that it will bring more opportunities as more number of youths will be inducted into the armed forces, which will help address the issue of unemployment," said Subedar Sudhir Karande (retd), whose great grandfather and his brothers had served in the World War-I.
As per the records available, the village lost around 46 of its members as soldiers in the World War-I and post-Independence, a number of soldiers hailing from this village, took part in different wars, including the 1962 war against China, 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan and the Kargil war.
"Our village is known for giving our sons to the service of the nation and it is in our blood. The youth is positive about the (Agnipath) scheme and they know that the kind of upbringing and tradition they inherit, they can excel (once they become Agniveers) and make a cut in the 25 per cent lot for a permanent job in the armed forces. We are talking to the aspirants and giving them guidance," he said.
Subedar Sandip Nikam, who retired in 2020, termed the Agnipath scheme as "good" and said that those who have capability can go ahead in the army.
"Even those who do not make it to the 25 per cent, several avenues will get opened up for them once they join the mainstream after four years of service," he said.
Asked about what skills he acquired during his service, he said the first thing that one learns in the army is discipline.
"After my retirement, I chose to explore my skills in farming and today I am a successful farmer. However, I am also capable of doing other things, such as running an academy for army aspirants or starting a yoga class," Nikam said.
Nikam's son Yash (19), who wishes to join the army, said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the recruitment process got affected and several aspirants are now facing the age bar.
"Considering the pandemic situation, which affected the army recruitment, the government should have waited to roll out the scheme," he said.
Asked about the government's claim that Agniveers will get more opportunity after their four-year stint, he said a large chunk will come out with certificates in hands after their service and the demand for jobs will soar and every year the number will keep rising.
Captain Udhaji Nikam (retd), who served in the army for 10 years, said a question is being asked what will Agniveers do when they return to the society as civilians after completing their four-year service in the armed forces.
"But I am sure that they will not have to go back to their houses. There are several avenues that will be available to them afterwards. They will have opportunities in central armed police as well as the state police forces. Employment will not be an issue as soldiers' leadership qualities get developed in the army," he said.
He added that soldiers in the army never get specialised training on how to rescue people during the floods, but such a situation arises and when they are deployed on such a mission, their general training and leadership skills come handy.
He said since a large number of youngsters will be inducted into the defence forces, the Agnipath scheme will create a youthful profile.
He, however, said the scheme was announced suddenly and came as a shock as the recruitment process had earlier got affected due to the pandemic and aspirants were worried about the age bar.
"To avoid the present situation (protest over the scheme), the government should have gone slow by first creating awareness about the scheme," he said.
Vikram Ghadge, who runs an academy for army aspirants in Apshinge Military, said that all his students are positive about the scheme.
"Though there are arguments over the future of Agniveers after four years, we in our academy, are preparing the students with an aim that they will get into the 25 per cent lot who will be permanently inducted into the army after serving four years as Agniveer," he said.
The Agnipath scheme for recruitment of soldiers in the three services, was unveiled by the government on Tuesday. It is being projected by the government as a major overhaul of the decades-old selection process to enhance the youthful profile of the three services.
However, several states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana, have been witnessing violent protests against the scheme, which envisages recruitment of soldiers for a short four-year period and retirement of most without pension.