Opposition leaders on Tuesday questioned why caste and religion certificates were needed for recruitment in the Army through the Agnipath scheme and asked whether the Union government wanted to create “Jativeers” instead of Agniveers.
“Jativeers”, referring to the Hindi word for caste, is a play on Agniveers, the Centre’s term for recruits under the Agnipath scheme.
A notification for a recruitment rally into the Indian Army states that candidates need to bring a caste certificate issued by the tehsildar or district magistrate with them. It also states that candidates have to bring a religion certificate issued by the tehsildar or sub divisional magistrate if the caste certificate does not mention either Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or Christian as their religion.
Several Opposition leaders asked why Army aspirants were being asked to state their caste when there was no provision for reservation in the armed forces.
Aam Aadmi Party MP Sanjay Singh asked whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not consider Dalits, Adivasis and those from backward classes worthy of being recruited into the military. He said that the “rotten face” of the Modi government was now in front of the country.
“It is for the first time in India’s history that candidates are being asked their caste during Army recruitment,” Singh claimed. “Modiji, do you want to create Agniveers or Jativeers?”
Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav claimed that the “Sangh’s casteist government” will make 75% of the Agnipath personnel ineligible for a permanent recruitment on the basis of their caste and religion.
According to the Agnipath scheme, up to 25% of short-term recruits can be permanently recruited into the armed forces.
Yadav also reiterated the questions raised by the Opposition: “When there is no reservation in the Army, what is the need for a caste certificate?”
He added that the Centre was running away from conducting a caste census but was asking those willing to lay down their lives for the country their caste.
Janata Dal (United) leader Upendra Kushwaha said that officials from the department concerned should clarify on why a caste certificate was needed for recruitment through the Agnipath scheme.
Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Sambit Patra, however, said that Army aspirants have been required to state their religion and caste since before Independence, and that the Modi government did not change this procedure.
“The Army itself clarified in an affidavit before the Supreme Court in 2013 that columns asking for caste and religion existed only for records,” Patra said at a press conference. “Opposition leaders are insulting the Army by creating doubts on this matter.”
Unidentified government officials also told NDTV that the “religion” column was required so that last rites of soldiers who die on duty or recruits who die during training can be conducted according to their faith.