The predominantly agrarian state of Haryana voted to elect its fourteenth legislative assembly on 21 October. As voting ended at 6 pm, the state had registered a voter turnout of 61.92 percent, a sharp drop compared to the previous state elections in 2014, which saw 76.54 percent of the electorate exercise their franchise. According to Munfaid, a 26-year-old from the Nuh tehsil in the eponymously named district at the southern-most tip of the state, these elections were “just a gimmick.” When I asked him why, he said, “The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government under Manohar Lal Khattar has neither created jobs nor has a concrete plan for us, the youth of Nuh.” Over the past week, I travelled through the three southern districts of the state—Rewari, Mahendragarh and Mewat, which was renamed Nuh three years ago. In the run-up to the elections, the lack of employment was a constant refrain across the region.
Munfaid said that the scale of unemployment in Nuh was so pervasive that “even the option for daily-wage labour is not available here.” Munfaid has a vocational degree—he trained as a multi-purpose health worker—but he works as a driver as he could not find a job. “Where are the jobs anyway?” He had applied for several government jobs but, according to him, “the officials give priority only to those who can buy the posts by paying a hefty amount.”
Nuh, with a population of 10.89 lakh, has a literacy rate of 54.08 percent, the lowest among all the districts in Haryana. But even with such a small pool of educated youth, jobs are hard to find. The state itself is currently facing an unemployment crisis. According to a report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, a business-intelligence firm, between May and August 2019, the unemployment rate in the state was the second highest in the country, at 21.38 percent. Mansoor Ali, a 30-year-old shop owner in Nuh, told me that “the youth of Nuh at best get the jobs of drivers or as computer operators in the few shops here and earn a meagre income.” Ali pursued a bachelor’s degree in science from a college in Chandigarh, the state capital, but came back to his hometown to open up an electronics shop “so that I can expand my business in this neglected region and create some jobs here.”
The lack of employment is compounded by the seasonal nature of agriculture in this region and acute water shortages. The region is primarily suited for mustard cultivation, which has a short growing and harvest season and does not provide work throughout the year. According to Nasir Hussain, a social activist based in Nuh, the region is primarily dependent on seasonal rains, and the lack of adequate water supply hinders round-the-year farming. He told me that consequently, most of the educated and uneducated youth of the district are compelled to travel to other parts of the state to work as drivers and are paid a meagre amount of Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 a month.
“I am sure that Nuh lags behind to such an extent that some of our population has not even seen a train till date,” said Nasir. He also mentioned how the administration changed the rules on the renewal of driving licences in 2016, forcing “almost thirty thousand of our youth who were working as drivers to stop going to work as their license could not be renewed.” Nasir said that this has been a huge “setback to the possibilities of employment here.”