Reshma Nadh, 31, has been leaving her three-year-old-son and travelling to Kerala capital Thiruvananthapuram every day at the crack of dawn, from the neighbouring district Kollam, to be part of a protest by the state's Public Service Commission exam rank holders outside the state government secretariat. Ms Nadh scored the 392nd rank in the 2018 exam for Last Grade Servants. She is still waiting for a job. Several rank holders like her, many even lower in the rankings, have been protesting since more than 20 days. The issue has become a flash point between Kerala's Left government and the opposition, which includes the Congress-led front and the BJP. Assembly election is expected soon in Kerala.
"392 is not a bad rank. Why should I look for a job anywhere else? I studied for four years and got this rank. Is it not my right to get a job with this rank? I trust the government and that's why I am coming here and joining these protests every day. Why can't the government meet us once?" Ms Nadh said.
Sitting next to her is Rekha Suresh, 39. Her son is 19 and is doing his teacher's training. "My son asks me if studying isn't enough. Now do we need to even protest to get our job?" asked Ms Suresh, who scored the 698th rank.
"This protest is not only for us, but also for our future generations. At least they must get what is theirs. Backdoor appointments need to stop under any government, said Jayalakshmi, another protesting rank holder.
Amid the protests, the state government has extended all the rank lists, which were to expire between February 3 and August 2, up to August 4. Next to these women outside the secretariat is another group of young people on protest. They are rank holders for the Civil Police Officers category exam. But their rank list expired in June last year and is not among those that have been extended.
According to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the number of candidates who make it to the rank list is sometimes even five times more than the number of job vacancies and thus, not all of them get jobs.
A few metres away from where the job-seekers are protesting, two Congress MLAs - KS Sabarinathan and Shafi Parambil - have been on an indefinite hunger protest, in support of the protests by the job seekers. The two Congress leaders are backed by senior party leaders, including former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. Leaders of the BJP, including state party chief K Surendran, have also been visiting the protesting rank holders. Youth wings of the Congress and the BJP too have been holding protests outside the secretariat every other day, with the police aiming water cannons at them to ensure law and order. The opposition, protesting against the alleged "back door recruitments", is demanding that the government hold discussions with the protesters.
The Chief Minister has warned the protesting rank holders against being "misled by the opposition and being made pawns for the upcoming assembly election", stating that the ruling Left has made more appointments than the previous governments. Countering the claim, Mr Chandy demanded the rank lists be extended by a year and a half "as was done under the previous UDF (United Democratic Front) government".
Kerala as a state has among the highest unemployment rate among the educated young people.
Mr Vijayan on Wednesday said regularisation of temporary employees in various government departments has been stopped and over 3,000 new posts have been created.