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New India: Young minds and demographic challenges

With Indian society growing rapidly, the youth are the beacon for tomorrow—they reflect commendable growth, and at the same time, fall prey to the vile ways of modern society, writes Piyush Ohrie.

 Piyush Ohrie |  2018-02-24 13:32:20.0

Addressing the nation on the 39th edition of his monthly radio programme, 'Mann Ki Baat' on the last day of 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed an important issue. Raising the subject of those born at the turn of the 21st century in 2000, those who will turn 18 in 2018, he highlighted the importance of these new eligible voters in strengthening our country's democracy.

After a few days, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Prime Minister mentioned how India's youth today were growing from job-seekers to job-creators. Through their innovation enterprise, talent and hard work the young were chasing their dream and beginning their own start-up ventures. Even though not entirely India-centric, a concern was also raised regarding why the young, educated and well-to-do individuals were simultaneously aiding terrorist activities.
With 65 per cent of India's population under 35, the youth are the pillars of making new India. While the optimism about the future remains upbeat, the challenges of the present are galore. A mammoth challenge lays with the government and the country's institutions to provide for the 600 million young and convert this demographic into a vital human resource. The central government's promise of creating one crore jobs each year has come under intense scrutiny of the opposition. The issue is not only restricted to jobs. Increased awareness, growing aspirations and the need to build a secure future may have propelled India's youth to take a leap towards progress—but are they being supported in their quest for growth?
With less than a month left for board exams, lakhs of students will be appearing for an examination which for long has been considered the vital initial test towards a brighter future. While there have often been advisories for students as well as parents to not overhype and instil fear about these examinations, it has not been able to placate the anxieties.
"The competition is tremendous and parallel opportunities are still very restricted. Therefore, when you have to choose between lakhs of students, marks become meritable. I want to get through a good college of Delhi University this year but we all know the skyrocketing cut-offs for obtaining admission," says Rachit Malhotra, who will be appearing for his Class XII boards this year. At the age of 17, Rachit has been conditioned to believe that he must choose between two or three years of intense hard work or a lifelong struggle. Rachit is not alone in being anxious about his future.
In 2017, out of the 1065179 candidates that appeared for the Class XII CBSE examinations, about 90,000 scored more than 90 per cent. Out of 2,70,000 students vying for the 54,000 seats of DU, many lost out because of the high cut-offs. 10 lakh students compete for 50,000+ medical seats. About five lakh candidates appear for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examinations, three lakh for the prestigious IIMs. With thousands of estimated students applying for 62 English Journalism seats at the Indian Institute of Mass-Communication (IIMC), there is also immense competition in the news media. This entire phenomenon is deeply affecting the youth—socially, mentally and physically. The spate of suicides in Kota that prepares students for the IIT and JEE examinations is well-known. Poor physical fitness and obesity among school students have often been cited. An All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) study in its survey of Delhi schools found that one out six students in the age bracket of five to 15 years has poor vision. What adds to the difficulty is the rapid digital growth of machine learning and artificial intelligence. More than educational qualifications, special skills, creativity and innovation will be the key to professional growth.
"In every phase of the country's development, there have been challenges for its young as it constitutes the primary workforce. Frankly, compared to the previous generations, the youth have never had it easier. These are less turbulent times compared to the past, technologically life has become much easier and there are also more job opportunities and financial security. Today, if you get left out in one field there are chances of you doing well in another," says Saloni Sachdeva, a private school teacher in Delhi.
"The biggest challenge today is for the youth to come forward, take the risk and be a real change agent for the country. Our politics, public, as well as private institutions, have several shortcomings and this can only be improved if the young take charge. As of now, it seems that the task is too herculean for India's young," she adds. The difficulties are not only restricted to educated young India—there is also another side to the spectrum. Around 30 kilometres away from Lutyens Delhi, in Gurugram, Hassan works as a scrap dealer (kabadi waala). At 19 years, he looks far older than his age. Operating in tony neighbourhoods of the city has ensured that he secures good business. A tough negotiator during transactions, Hassan has gained expertise over the years and dreams of further expanding his small venture.
"The fact remains that it is not easy and the difficulties will only further increase. Opportunities and facilities in terms of education, jobs and self-employment avenues are restricted for us. The situation is worse in the rural areas, forcing us to migrate to urban spaces for a better livelihood," says Hassan.
"Today I work hard because I want to do well for myself. I have to ensure that from here on my financial growth does not stagnate because, in the future, I realise, I will have to not only look after my parents but also my own family with the same limited resources that we have at our disposal," he says
A similar complexity is also faced by 23-year-old Rakhee, a domestic maid. With a large number of working-class families in the city, there is no dearth of demand, yet insecurity in the job remains. "It is much more difficult to get a house for work than being chucked out because of the owner being unhappy with your work. Often, payment becomes a hindrance but there are also differences in opinion regarding the work to be done. Irrespective of how much work you put in, the owner will still be dissatisfied and demand more," says Rakhee.
While Gurugram has provided an opportunity for Hassan and Rakhee to earn their livelihoods, a disturbing fact also emerges—the city is turning out to be a favourable place for fomenting criminal activities. On an average, there are 10 crimes that are committed daily by the juveniles in the city. While it may include petty crimes like robberies, snatching and eve-teasing—most of them have also attempted rapes and murder, say police officials. There are over 150 cases that are pending in the juvenile justice board. Moreover, there were 14 cases that were filed in the month of October last year.
There is no denying the fact that today's youth are more aggressive, indecent and want to achieve it big through shorthand, illegal means. Most of the juveniles first attempt petty crimes like snatching, robberies and molesting. Because they are able to get away with it, they attempt major crimes like murders and rapes," said a senior official from Gurugram police.
"It is debatable why juveniles take up crime. In most cases, we have seen that the youth do it because of adventure. In the counselling sessions, we mostly encourage the youngsters to have this daring attitude by engaging in sports rather than in crime," the official added.
Significant events occurred in succession between February 3, 4 and 5. On February 3, the under-19 squad of the Indian cricket team won its fourth world cup. Narrating his initial ordeals, Prithvi Shaw, the captain of the winning team mentioned how he travelled from the suburbs in Virar to the city for his daily practice.
On February 4, just six days short of celebrating his 23rd birthday, Captain Kapil Kundu was martyred during firing along the Line of Control. Being the youngest among his siblings with two sisters, Kajal and Sonia, Captain Kundu lost his father eight years ago. Despite personal responsibilities, he never let his dream fade away and his hard work assured his selection in the National Defence Academy in 2016. On January 26, 2016, Kapil was promoted from the rank of Lieutenant to Captain and a few days later, he laid his life for the nation. On January 5, the CBI in its 5000-page long charge sheet, finally accused the 16-year-old class XI student for murdering the seven-year-old in the washroom of a Gurugram school.
The above examples reflect the best and the worst of young India. From playing a role in creating temples of modern India to being a part of a volatile new India, difficulties have always been present and yet, the young have always, in one way or another, had to ensure that they remain equipped to face the challenge.

Piyush Ohrie

Piyush Ohrie

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