Stuck in a narrow, dingy bylane in the Musallahpur area of Patna, hemmed in by ugly buildings, old structures with temporary walls and rickety corrugated roofs, is a windowless eight-by-eight feet room in a four-storied structure. Here, brothers Aryan and Aditya Raj have crammed their cots, study table, books, coaching material, clothes, gas stove, LPG cylinder and other sundry things they need to get by. Nearly 70 students preparing for different competitive examinations stay in this building. Each floor has one common toilet. About 80% of the residents cook themselves. Others have a tiffin delivery service for food. Hygiene is terrible. Diarrhea is a common disease. Daylight barely reaches even the footpaths outside.
“This is where we dream of getting a government job, day and night. It’s our only hope in being here,” says Mr. Aryan Raj, who is preparing for an exam while his younger brother makes thick chapatti s on the single burner gas stove set on the floor. Sons of a government school teacher, they have come to Patna from Jhajha of Jamui district nearly 300 km away, spending not less ₹10,000 every month on chasing their dream.
A walk through the dank maze of ever narrowing lanes and bylanes smelling of sewage and sweets in the Musallahpur, Chak Musallahpur, Bhikhna Pahari, Bazaar Samiti, Mahendru Ghat and Ashok Rajpath areas of Patna reveals thousands of students entering or leaving decrepit lodgings daily. They come from all corners of the State, some even from neighbouring States, seeking classes in particular subjects or with a particular teacher. Hundreds of coaching institutes populate these localities. Around them, traffic bleats, dimly lit hotels are infested with mosquitoes, and flies settle on roadside food carts.
“This is the hub of coaching institutes in Patna. Students from across Bihar pour in, chasing their dreams of getting a government job, and they keep chasing it for years,” says Devesh Manglam Dev, adding that he kept missing the grade by one or two marks and is now nearing “over-age” to appear for them. “What to do? There is no other option for us except to stay in such hellish conditions and prepare for exams,” he rues. “Over 90% of students like me come here from a rural background and live in such pitiable conditions for years to get a government job.”
But why only a government job? “Because it’s permanent, and it gives the stability of regular income to run our family,” Mr. Dev says with a smile. His friends Ravi and Rajdip Kumar agree, signs of shyness in their eyes.
“Not even 10% of students are here these days due to the COVID-19 lockdown as we take classes online. In normal days, it’s not possible to find a place to stand,” says Pradeep Kumar of Kautilya and The Pathway coaching institute. “At my coaching institute, a student gets support for every subject under one roof. They don’t have to go anywhere else. That’s why we are popular,” Mr. Kumar claims.
Among these hundreds of coaching institutes is the ‘Khan G S Research Center’, which has multiple halls in a shabby building that’s plastered with brightly coloured billboards of other coaching institutes. They claim to prepare students for jobs in Group-D services and the Indian Railways, and help them pass the Staff Selection Committee and Bihar Public Service Commission exams. The shutters to the establishment are locked.
Teacher Faisal Khan, popular among students as “Khan sir”, is among the six teachers against whom the Patna district administration recently lodged a first information report (FIR) at the Patrakar Nagar Police Station for allegedly “inciting” students to protest, which rocked Bihar and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh for three days from January 25. Since then, Mr. Khan has been unreachable and incommunicado.
“Hopefully, we’ll start our classes from February 7, when the lockdown norms will be lifted. Khan sir is very much around and will take classes,” the institute’s manager, Rana Pratap Singh, said over the phone of an office staff.
“Khan sir is popular among students because of his style of teaching in local lingo with local references. He sounds like us and makes it easy,” says Mr. Aditya Raj, who adds that students have to reach “Khan sir’s”classes two hours beforehand to get a seat inside the hall. “Otherwise, one has to stand outside or sit in the next hall to hear his lecture on a screen.” he explains.
On the evening of January 25, thousands of students suddenly gathered at the Rajendra Nagar Railway Terminal in Patna and blocked the movement of trains while protesting against the results of the Railway Recruitment Board’s Non Technical Popular Categories exams for jobs as train assistants, guards, junior clerks, timekeepers and station masters. For about 35,000 vacancies, nearly 1.25 crore candidates had applied. Of them, 60 lakh candidates appeared from all over India, with the remaining majority appearing from Bihar, where joblessness is a major issue among students.
“Do they [the government] really want us to fry and sell pakodas (fried snack) for living?” asks Niranjan Kumar, a history graduate from Patna University, as his friends share a laugh at a corner tea stall in the Chak Musallahpur area on a chilly winter day in early February.
Meanwhile, ever since the State government reserved 35% seats for women in the police services, a large number of girls too arrive in Patna from rural areas, living in similarly pitiable conditions to get government jobs. Braving icy winter winds early in the morning, hundreds of these girls undergo physical training on the road outside the Moin-ul-Haq Stadium in the Rajendra Nagar area of Patna “as the gates of the stadium are locked due to COVID-19 restrictions,” says aspirant Anita Kumari, who is here all the way from Saharsha district. “A government job is a permanent thing,” she too says with a smile..