Wednesday, 21 November 2018

This Eklavya won't sacrifice his thumb

My article on aspirations of the Indian youth was published in The Pioneer
You can read a version of the article here                                                                                                                               

The youth of India are not a monolithic group and therefore their aspirations vary. While there is section of hi-tech affluent youths who want to begin their start-ups, there are also rural-uneducated-Dalit-female youths who are fighting for bare minimum. If the country boasts of a magnificent plan for 25 IITs, it should not lack in action plan for 15,000 ITIs. Everyone talks about young Indian engineers’ feat in NASA, Silicon Valley, but no one talks about youth from the marginalised section. We cannot overlook Eklavyas for the shining Arjunas
What do the youth in India want? This question gets echoed over and over again from power corridors to creative wormholes. The answers are multiple, amorphous and indefinite because our understanding of the youth as a category is limiting our vision and leaving us with a flawed picture. In a country like India, whose defining feature is its diversity, the youth too are equally diverse and dynamic. To be in a position to evaluate or assess what they want, we must first get the complete view of what youth are as a category.

India’s youth — the right picture

The National Youth Policy 2014 defines the youth as those between the age group of 15 to 29, which comes to around 26 per cent of the population or 32 crore. However, the youth are not a unilinear, monolithic set; it is a complex category. Within this broad unit of 32 crore are many sub-groups and inequalities: rural-urban, class-caste, rich-poor, male-female, etc. Existence of diverse groups means diverse aspirations which defy generalisations and rebel against universal statements of purpose. Take the example of the popular “5-4-3-2-1 formula” which is assumed to be the panacea for the youth. Five digit salary, four-wheeler vehicle, three-BHK flat, two children and one beautiful wife — this, however, is an “urban middle class-male” formula which is forced as a universal motto.
t is the aspirations that drive the youth to constantly push, and sometimes, break the boundaries. A few decades ago, education and employment were the two most vital concerns of the youth. However, over a period of time, this has changed and now the youth also have aspirations outside the ambit of education and employment. The needs of the youth vary depending on age, finance and career goals. For some, buying a school bag could be a key concern while for others making it to the highest cut-off could be a priority.
Pressing problems may appear in the form of zero accessibility to technology especially in rural areas and non-availability of jobs in urban, semi-urban and rural areas. For those wanting to become entrepreneurs, finding initial capital investment could be the problem. In the larger canvas, issues of women safety and sanitation are also critical factors. Therefore, the needs and expectations of the youth have to be categorised and understood at different levels.
Take two sub-groups — one of the youth who have passed out from IITs and want to begin start-ups. The Government has tried to create an ecosystem for this group and many organisations are currently working in that direction. Now, take another sub-group of rural-uneducated-Dalit-female youth. If the former sub-group has lakhs of youth, crores of youth also belong to the latter sub-group. What do the female youth wantIJ She does not want a start-up. She just wants respect and dignified life in her own family and society. We need to think about her too. Today, she does not fall in our development net because she is not educated and cannot open account at block level. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been pragmatic in his understanding of the youth. In his words: “It is important how we view the youth of our nation. To simply consider them new age voters is a big mistake. They are the new age power.” The Government has taken steps to democratise the schemes for the youth by targeting different social sections through different schemes like Stand Up, Start Up, Skill India, etc.

Mainstreaming the marginalised

In 1970s, the protagonists of popular Indian movies were the youth from middle class — the popular angry young men typified by characters like Vijay played by Amitabh Bachchan. But today, the angry young men no longer come from the urban middle class but from the marginalised communities like Dalits and Tribals. Movies like Masaan, Sairat and Kabali are just a few examples. In this era of post-BSP and post-Mayawati politics, the youth from the marginalised sections of the society are angry and agitated. He wants his troubles to end now. He does not agree with the existing development model as it puts him at a disadvantage. When and how his dissent will turn into anarchy is hard to predict.
The successive Governments have floated several schemes and programmes for the youth but each with lacunae in vision, direction, execution and structure. To begin with, we don't know the purpose of our youth-oriented schemes. Take the example of volunteer schemes of Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangthan (NYKS). There are over 8,000 paid volunteers in more than 4,000 blocks but they are not properly trained and deputed for any work. We need to impart skills, mentoring and training. More and more schemes related to youth volunteerism should be started with focus on skilling, mentoring and training. Those schemes should be effectively implemented and promoted at every level in a designed manner.
The country has in place a powerful plan for 25 IITs but what it lacks is an action plan for 15,000 ITIs. In a way, our IITs have failed our ITIs. Everyone talks about young Indian engineers in NASA, Silicon Valley and Bengaluru but no one talks about the youth from the marginalised sections, especially Dalit and tribal communities. We cannot overlook Eklavya for the shining Arjuna. In this country, there are several Eklavyas aspiring for new avenues. While there is no doubt that several youth today want to set up their own company, it is also a fact that there are lakhs of youths who are simply searching for the job of a security guard. We need to think and plan for them too. We can no longer afford to leave Eklavya out of our development net as this time around he will not sacrifice his thumb but wiggle it in our face and choose his own way.

Role of democracy

Democracy deals with liberty and equality — socio-economic and political. It is the duty of the youth to take the project of democracy forward in the country where political representation of every youth has been almost ensured. Now, what we have to achieve is socio-economic democracy and equality which can be ensured only through inclusive and equitable development. The only purpose of development should be to improve quality and ensure dignity of life.
Youth who feel that they are not getting their share in this project of democracy and development are registering their dissent. Those who are at the margins of the society, political system or economy are vulnerable and there is a high probability of them taking a dissenting stand. The Indian State must accept this and try to accommodate them in the mainstream. A good democracy should be accommodative enough to accept and respect dissent. It should have the tendency to co-opt dissenters. Simplest definition of justice is to treat equal equally and unequal unequally. Those left behind should be taken along.

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