Rioters set fire to trains in protest over short-term military contracts

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Violence erupted in parts of India on Thursday with thousands of angry youths setting train coaches and vehicles on fire, blocking highways and attacking police with rocks to protest against a short-term, recruitment policy for the military.

Police used batons and tear gas to disperse the protesters in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan states where they took to the streets and damaged government buildings.

Nearly 25,000 police were deployed in the worst-hit Bihar state, where the protests spread to a dozen towns in eight districts, a police spokesman said.

The protesters blocked highways and disrupted train service for several hours.

India Military Recruitment
Railway officials douse a fire in a railway coach at a station in Hyderabad (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A)

Seventy-five percent of them will be compulsorily retired after four years with no pension benefits.

A full-time recruited soldier serves for more than 35 years.

Mr Singh defended the programme, saying its aim is “to strengthen the security of the country.”

With 1.4 million active personnel, India’s military is the world’s second largest after China, and the third-largest spender.

One idea behind the short-term military recruitment is that those trained by the armed forces can later seek jobs with police or the private sector.

The government faced criticism from some retired soldiers and opposition leaders.

“I thought initially it was a trial being done on a pilot basis. This is an across-the-board change to convert Indian armed forces to a short tenure quasi-conscript force,” GD Bakshi, a retired army general, tweeted.

India Defense
Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh, second from right, announced the new policy this week (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

In Gwalior, a city in central India, a railroad station was ransacked, some trains vandalised and trash cans set on fire.

In the northern town of Rewari, police used wooden sticks to disperse protesters who blocked a bus station and parts of a key highway linking Rajasthan state with New Delhi, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported.

A crowd gathered in Uttar Predesh state’s Bulandshahr and Ballia districts but dispersed after officials assured them that their demand would be conveyed to authorities.

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