What's wrong with Indian youth 1

India

Siddhartha Kumar

is a journalist. He has worked for Indian newspapers for many years and is currently India editor at the German press agency dpa in New Delhi



Translation: Stefan Mentschel

Land of Young People - New beginnings in Youngistan

India is changing. More and more young people dream of professional careers and future opportunities that their parents did not have. At the same time, they question traditional social norms or become politically active. The background to this is the country's rapid economic development over the past 20 years, which has also left deep marks on society. But not all young Indians have the chance to benefit from the upswing and new beginnings.

Young couple in rainy New Delhi. (& copy AP)

India is well on the way to becoming the planet's youngest nation and its millions of young people are expected to shape the country's role in this "Asian Century". Since the economic opening in the early 1990s, there have been huge changes in almost all areas of society. 140 million people alone have found their way out of poverty. A better standard of living and the associated socio-cultural liberalization have contributed to an awakening of the youth. Regardless, India is facing significant problems. Around 250 million Indians still live in great poverty. The indicators of development in areas such as social affairs, education and health are catastrophic.

India, the second most populous country in the world after China, is a young nation. More than half of the 1.2 billion inhabitants (as of 2011 census) are younger than 25 years. Two thirds are under 35. International population statistics show that every fifth person on the planet under the age of 30 is an Indian. The Indian media therefore like to call the country Youngistan, Land of Youth). And the young people get involved to initiate political and social changes.

Between tradition and modernity

In interviews, young Indians express high expectations in life but also worry about them. Governance and Development, Poverty and Unemployment. Nevertheless, the majority are optimistic about the future. Due to globalization, India's youth are open to influences from all over the world. They watch the latest films, know fashion trends and go to concerts where music from East and West is played. A new culture is developing, especially in the cities - fearless, performance-oriented and liberal.

Today's youth are individualistic and consumer-oriented. She concentrates on her own wishes and needs, in contrast to her parents, who lived in large families and saved their money for the children, believes the 23-year-old architect Ananya Anand from Delhi. "Parental authority over important decisions such as choosing a career or spouse has been gradually eroded. Nowadays, there are caste-border weddings, divorces or illegitimate relationships in metropolises - that was a taboo not so long ago Youth) frees themselves from the old fetters, from regressive thinking and from social evils. " Due to economic progress and the many opportunities to shape the future, young people face changes with a self-confidence that was lacking in previous generations. A higher level of education has meant that young Indians are ready to overcome social barriers in a society that is still conservative and to make friendships across gender, caste and religious lines. This is the result of the study Indian Youth in a Transforming World: Attitudes and Perceptions, carried out by the Center for Research into Development Societies (CSDS) in Delhi and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation have published.

However, India's youth are not completely throwing traditional values ​​overboard. Rather, it adapts them to the modern age. According to opinion polls, the majority prefer to stay within the cultural norms of family and social environment. Unlike in the West, where young people are expected to stand on their own two feet as early as possible, Indian young people prefer to live with their parents or in large families, even if they have already started their own professional careers. Arranged marriages are still the rule. In Hindu-dominated India, young people also celebrate the religious holidays with enthusiasm. In the morning they are seen stopping and praying on their way to work at the temple. In shopping centers, universities, cafes and fitness clubs, where social control is low, young people face modernity and create new identities.

According to Sanjay Kumar, director of CSDC and co-author of the study, India's youth have developed a bicultural identity that incorporates indigenous and global elements. Young people hear the latest hits from Bollywood on their smartphones, which are increasingly being created in collaboration with international artists. Over the past decade, Valentine's Day has grown in popularity in India and is celebrated by teenagers even in small towns. At the same time, the protests of Hindu and Muslim hardliners, who for years have branded Valentine's Day as a danger to Indian culture, have petered out. In addition, hundreds of people in metropolises like Delhi or Kolkata are now taking part in a movement like Slut Walk, which is protesting against the view that "provocatively" dressed women are to blame if they are molested.

Political awakening

In recent years, the youth of the most populous democracy in the world have also become more and more politically active. She exchanges ideas on social media, takes to the streets on topics of public interest and plays an important role in nationwide movements. In 2011, youthful energy strengthened the mass protests against corruption. Young people marched ahead when resentment broke out over the brutal gang rape of a student in Delhi in December 2012. The weeks of protests finally forced the politicians to initiate protective measures for women and to tighten the criminal laws.

The 24-year-old businessman Sandeep Kukreja and his friends were present at the protests: "The youth have raised their voices and made their presence felt. It was a moment of adulthood, a traumatic but formative time in our history that the government awoke from its slumber and has forced action. " The 22-year-old student Shikhar Golash agrees: "The youth go ahead, regardless of whether it is protests against sexual violence, corruption or racially motivated violence." Social scientists see great potential in this. According to this, India could change for the better if the youth become politically active and help to reform society, politics and administration.

There were around 150 million first-time voters in the 2014 parliamentary elections. But India's top politicians are old. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was 81 when he left his post. The average age of cabinet members is 65 years. Many speak of India as a gerontocracy (rule of the ancients), in which even a youth leader like Rahul Gandhi, scion of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, is already in his mid-40s.

Young Indians are interested in politics and democracy, but they have little trust in parties and politicians, notes Sanjay Kumar. "Young people get involved in social issues. Whether they will ultimately do the same in politics remains to be seen, because so far we have not seen a significantly higher participation of young people in elections, for example." However, more and more young people from small towns and from the countryside were participating in the political process, said Kumar. The number of women involved in politics has also risen.

"We have to break away from the cynical past"

However, some youth are frustrated with corruption and poor governance. You want to leave India. "My friends and I want to study abroad and eventually settle there," says Ashima Doshi, who studies fashion design in Mumbai. "In India there are criminal parliamentarians and a political system that cannot be reformed." According to the Delhi Public Interest Foundation, more than 150 of the 545 lower house MPs are under criminal proceedings. But the student Shikhar Golash contradicts Ashima: "We have to break away from the cynical past and stop blaming the government for everything bad in society. India has enormous potential, but people's attitudes must change."

In the past few years, literacy and education levels have increased in India. According to government figures, the number of enrollments in higher educational institutions rose from 0.7 percent in 1950 to more than 20 percent in 2012. Many no longer want to work in traditional professions and are aiming for a career in the arts or humanities.

It is mainly young people from small towns who have greater ambitions compared to their peers in the metropolises. These are the scenes, halfway between new beginnings and traditional social restrictions, where the energy of Indian youth needs to be tapped, says social scientist Kumar. Garima Choudhary has come to Delhi from the east Indian state of Jharkhand and agrees. "People from small towns are more ambitious, they want to achieve something and prove that they are better," says the 23-year-old. "The youth did not inherit the fear and insecurity of previous generations. We dare to think differently and have a we-can-do attitude that our parents did not have."

India's youth wave

While both industrialized and emerging economies are aging, India is getting younger. According to a United Nations report, by 2020 the country will be the youngest in the world, with an average age of 29, accounting for 28 percent of the world's working population. In comparison, the average age in China and the United States will rise to 37 years, and in Western Europe to 45 years. An interesting point in this context is that the increasing number of young people is pushing India to the cusp of what is known as a demographic dividend, which the country could benefit from by 2040.

It is viewed by many as a historic opportunity for India to turn its vast human resources into economic advantage. The "youth wave" washes millions of people onto the Indian labor market every year, which, according to government taxes, could employ more than 650 million people in 2031. The demographic dividend can help India lift its people out of poverty and take a giant step from a developing to an industrialized country.

But there is also another scenario: if the country fails to offer young people adequate schooling, vocational training and job opportunities, then a demographic catastrophe is looming. India's workforce is already growing by a million people a month. But there is only capacity to train half of them. Currently, only 20 percent of the working population have the qualifications required for their profession. "In 2030 India will have the largest labor force in the world. These young people, who can usher in a new era, must be trained and empowered to take life into their own hands," said Indian President Pranab Mukherjee recently. Against this background, the government formulated the goal of wanting to provide around half a billion young people with professional qualifications by 2022 - a challenge that is unprecedented worldwide.

"Demographic dividend could turn into a nightmare"

Leading Indian politicians often speak of the need to harness the strength and energy of young people to shape the future. However, the country does not seem to be ready for today's challenges. Kingshuk Datta, 24, comes from a middle class family in Kolkata and works as a financial advisor. Nandu, who runs the newspapers in the neighborhood, came to Kolkata from the poor state of Bihar in search of work as a child, only a few years younger than Kingshuk. For every Kingshuk Datta from India's 250 million strong middle-class people with their global desires, university degrees and starting salaries of 30,000 rupees (360 euros), there are hundreds of nandus who - if they are lucky - get by with a monthly income of 3500 rupees (42 euros) Have to beat life.

Behind the image of the well-educated Indian computer specialists and business graduates hired by large corporations lies the bitter truth of the host of unemployed young men. India is also not doing well when it comes to social indicators. India ranks 136th in the United Nations Human Development Index, which assesses life expectancy, educational qualifications and income, among other things. A lack of equal opportunities and a lack of access to education mean that not every young Indian will benefit from the upswing.

There are efforts to balance these inequalities through laws such as the right to education, says Danielle Rajendram of the Lowy Institute in Australia. But implementation problems would have undermined the effectiveness of the measure. "Before India can take advantage of the opportunities offered by demographic change, it has a long way to go, particularly on child health, job creation and education issues. Failure in these areas would leave a disaffected and restless youth Produce an underclass that has the potential to seriously jeopardize internal security and social stability in the country. "

According to the International Labor Organization, the situation in developing countries like India is exacerbated by factors such as poverty and high competitive pressure due to the rapidly growing workforce. So if the demographic dividend is not used, experts say it could also become a nightmare in India with millions of frustrated and unemployed young men.

"We have to work hard, but we will make it"

Can India avert this danger? Young Indians from below social classes are optimistic. Haribabu Satyala belongs to a group of people who were formerly known as the casteless. He finished his engineering studies and ignored job offers. Instead, he is preparing for the entrance exam for Indian Administrative Services, the country's influential administrative apparatus. "I want to contribute to the development of the nation and create conditions that enable previously oppressed and disadvantaged groups to benefit from the development process. We have to work hard, but we will make it."

The process of change in India is taking place slowly but inexorably. Ambitious young Indians today have greater freedom than their peers at any time in Indian history to live their personal dreams. They believe in democracy and increasingly question traditional social norms. Danielle Rajendram believes that the growing number of young people represents enormous potential for economic development and a competitive advantage for the country. But the government must equip them with the necessary skills so that the youth can meet the demands. Even more: the issue of youth must be at the top of the government's agenda. However, the energy and determination of millions of Indian youth gives cause for hope that the story will turn out positively.