Hyderabad/Bengaluru: At 19, Kalyan Reddy is like any other college-goer: ambitious, vulnerable and unsure of his future. Now in the final year of his bachelors in biotechnology course, he is eyeing a post-graduate degree in the same stream. His hope: a better standing in the job market than someone with just a bachelors degree.
His elder brother, Durga Prasad, 22, completed his bachelors in technology (B.Tech) last year. Now he idles away his time, waiting for some job vacancy to open up in the Telangana government service, notifications for which have been scarce. His application for the post of a village revenue officer last year has made no progress.
“Job options are the same but post-graduates might get better preference," Kalyan says, speaking in Telugu and broken English.
A recent report by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University, State Of Working India 2018, noted that unemployment among the well-educated is thrice the national average. There are roughly 55 million people in the labour force who hold at least a graduate degree, and about 9 million of them are estimated to be unemployed, the report added.
Telangana’s employment statistics may not sound much different from that of the rest of the country; however, the key difference is that the state’s birth in 2014 was powered by a sustained social mobilization led by well-educated students. It’s five years since the state was carved out from Andhra Pradesh. Since then, Telangana has subsidized and incentivized educational advancement through a series of populist schemes. But what happens when the protagonists of bifurcation do not find jobs?
As in many other states, Telangana too sees a large number of highly qualified candidates for low-level government jobs.
Boddu Ellaiah, 39, who holds a Ph.D in economics, left his job as a government teacher in Karimnagar’ Thimmapur village in 2006 to join the agitation for statehood. But since 2014 when the state was carved out, Ellaiah, like thousands of other students, feels disenchanted and left out of the growth story.
“We didn’t just fight for [mere] boundaries," he says. “We fought for neellu, nidhulu, niyaamakaalu (water, funds, and jobs)," Ellaiah says, quoting the slogan which animated the statehood agitation. Most of the recent notifications for government job vacancies have been for the post of a constable in the police department, not university jobs which many qualified candidates have been waiting for, he says.
As a result, a section of highly-qualified people like Ellaiah has begun to accuse Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao and his Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) of using them to achieve power, and letting the student community down. In this imagination, Rao’s political ambitions apparently fit in conveniently into the dominant narrative in Hyderabad’s university landscape—the alleged hegemony of coastal Andhraites in jobs, education and resource allocation.
Sensing the discontent, the TRS, which recently won a landslide victory in the state polls, has promised to get to work on the unemployment crisis.
But the students are not entirely convinced. They argue that the state’s policy seems to be to dole out cash to all social sections while keeping the workforce unemployed, which would then result in a dependent electorate that would keep the party in power for as long as possible.
“The government gives my mother ₹1,000. I do not want this. Give me a government job instead. I will take care of my mother," Ellaiah says.
The aspiration for well-paid jobs has led to a situation where many students, like Kalyan Reddy, continue their studies hoping for a decent job at the end.
Sometimes, the intent isn’t even to receive an additional skill. Osmania University and other state-run educational institutions, which were central to the statehood agitation, have now donned a new role.
“Students enrol themselves in public universities to get a subsidized stay while looking for jobs in Hyderabad," says Manne Krishank, a student leader who was involved in the Telangana statehood agitation and is now with the Congress party.
The fee reimbursement scheme, of which both Kalyan Reddy and Durga Prasad are beneficiaries, helps students continue their education while they continue hunting for jobs.
With information technology jobs drying up, the rise of the gig economy has soaked in some of the labour force, but the kind of employment on offer has only further exacerbated the problem.
“It’s the lack of skill and not the lack of opportunity which is the real problem," says a senior official in the Telangana government public service commission, who requested anonymity. Doctoral scholars and engineers are among those applying for even grade-III & IV posts, the official cited above said. He says that most of those who have acquired higher education are certified but are not necessarily better skilled.
“Is it true that there are a lot of people who are well-trained and not finding jobs, or is it that they have only paper qualifications?" asks Prof. Amit Basole, an economist at Azim Premji University.
While lack of skills may indeed be a concern, it is also true that aspirations rise along with higher education and the highly educated are increasingly choosing not to “settle" for just any available job. Private and public sector companies alike increasingly hire on contracts under terms which deny basic job security and social benefits.
The result is the increasing allure of that all-elusive government job, whose charm has only gone up in the eyes of the masses, especially among rural people. Earlier this month, the Karnataka police busted a gang dealing with leaked exam question papers meant to be issued in government tests for bus conductors, police sub-inspectors, constables and other such posts.
“The going rate for a single question paper for the post of a police sub-inspector is ₹40 lakh," said a senior police official, adding that for a police constable, it is ₹6-7 lakh. Most of the aspirants had paid advances of around ₹1-3 lakh to get their hands on the test paper.
Meanwhile, young men like Kalyan Reddy work hard to get into a central university, which could further subsidize his masters studies and keep him a contender in India’s chaotic job market. “After my masters, I will try to get a job related to my professional qualification. If not, I will try for a government job," he says.
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