Behind the madness of “government work” in India, there is a generation that needs a future

By Ravi Pinto

Published on April 30, 2022 At 03:27 – Updated on April 30, 2022 At 05:23

The place looks more like a hangar than an exam room. In this cramped space, 2,500 students, sitting on narrow wooden benches, shoulder to shoulder, work frantically on their copies. The preparatory class in Patna, Bihar (east India), specializes in civil service entrance exams. The platform welcomes thousands of students every day, eager to test their knowledge. Twice a day, for just 10 rupees, or 12 euro cents, they could come and pass the white competition.

Here, we are not aiming for highly prestigious entrance exams to India’s senior civil servants. Candidates have their sights set on the lowest-skilled positions, which do not require a bachelor’s degree or fluency in English. Even in this category, only a small percentage of candidates make it to public employment, which is often referred to as “government work”. Jobs as sweepers, typists, or government receptionists are highly coveted, and competition is fierce.

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In Patna, the Musallahpur Hat district, a veritable training jungle, is a symptom of the rush to public work obsessed with an entire generation of Indians. It hosts countless prepasts similar to The Platform. This part of the city alone has a thousand. On the main artery, the horizon was blocked by the piles of advertising signs that invaded the tall faade. Silhouettes of instructors with stellar statuses are loss leaders, as is “Khan Sir”, a teacher whose YouTube channel has more than 15 million subscribers.

Billboard of hundreds of training centers and study centers, in Patna, India, March 31, 2022.

Rickshaws and bicycles, which are converted into advertising vehicles, spout a schedule of various support courses. The dozens of stalls set up on the highway appeared to be selling only discounted handouts of competition subjects from previous years. Inside these buildings, several thousand young Indians take mock exams and take courses in mathematics applied to railways, general culture or even logical reasoning, given by teachers equipped with headband microphones. At 40 °C, they pile up in these rooms without air conditioning every day, in the hope of one day finding public work.

“This is sad”

The children of farmers or small traders, many who sacrificed a few years just to prepare for these competitions, left university courses. “My family has staked everything on me and their future depends on my success”explained Purushottam Kumar, installed in his small student room less than 10 m2, windowless, which he shared with other students. His father, a farmer, sent him a small amount of money earned from selling the produce each month. Books with obscure acronyms for newcomers piled up behind him. By the age of 24, he had prepared more than six years for the category D rail competition, which gave access to unskilled work, which took ten to fourteen hours.

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