By Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee
Consider what a work force of over 600 million able bodied, strong willed skilled work force can do. With 55 per cent of the Indian population below the age of 25, India can boast of the largest youth population in the world — a trend that is likely to continue for at least the next two decades. Such a demographic distribution gives us an indication of the energy, enthusiasm and idealism that is available for harnessing, provided there are suitable avenues that can attract young Indians. During the independence movement charismatic leaders were able to inspire the people with their vision and convert the struggle into a mass movement, which ultimately became a major factor for our independence.
Six decades later, today, widespread cynicism and contempt for the political leadership has alienated the youth from participating in nation building activities. As a result, young people passing out of universities look for the earliest opportunity to start climbing the corporate ladder or to go abroad. Most of them become materialistic in outlook. The prevailing milieu of corruption and inefficiency corrodes their creativity and zeal. Many of them, who want to chase their dreams, fail to do so. Many of them feel frustrated about their inability to act as change agents in society and find a higher purpose for their lives.
Economic liberalisation and the subsequent growth in GDP have apparently not touched 70 per cent of the Indian population. Agriculture, which engages about 50 per cent of the nation’s youth, is showing signs of an acute crisis that is sweeping across the country and has led to a large number of suicides by farmers. Declining agricultural productivity, falling employment opportunities in agricultural and non-farm sectors, poor health care services and the inability to access quality education has enhanced poverty and distress among one-third of the rural population.
While economic opportunities have increased for people with education, skills and economic resources in the post-liberalisation era, a large number of poorly educated people, particularly in rural areas, have fallen behind and are not in a position to benefit in the new milieu. This inequitable development has unleashed social tensions, particularly in under-developed and tribal areas, which has manifested in subversive activities. The Naxal menace in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and other states; is one manifestation of the deeper malice.
What can be done?
One of the ways of bridging the widening urban-rural divide is to organise and galvanise the youth, particularly urban educated youth, so that they voluntarily get involved in developmental projects in rural areas, which people perceive as being largely the responsibility of the government. In some countries, like the US, there are well-structured programmes (such as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps) which enable volunteers to spend a brief period doing development work with the underprivileged sections of society, before taking up their chosen profession. In our country, the NSS programme in colleges and universities were started with this objective. But the NSS programme seems to have lost steam and direction.
To translate our ‘demographic dividend’ into a true ‘development dividend’, we also need to refocus on such initiatives, which will provide avenues for the more privileged sections to become aware of ground realities and contribute through their personal efforts towards building strong cohesive communities — a pre-requisite for a stable socio-political environment. The absence of a well-conceived programme, which provides interesting and meaningful work, has resulted in the nation losing out on the services of a huge pool of energetic young people — a wasted resource.
However, of late there have been some initiatives by some corporate bodies and NGOs. State Bank of India has launched the SBI Youth for India fellowship. The programme provides a framework to enable educated youth to work on rural development projects of partner NGOs for a period of one year. The programme’s partner NGOs are MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, BAIF Research Foundation, and Seva Mandir. The objectives of this fellowship are: To provide educated Indian youth with an opportunity to touch lives and create positive change at the grass root level in rural India; to provide NGOs working on development projects in rural India with educated manpower whose skill sets can be used to catalyse rural development; and to promote a forum for programme alumni to share ideas and contribute to rural development throughout their professional lives.
Maria T. Holmes writes in her book Beyond the Myth: “Awaken and See the Possibilities in the World around You. The Universe is made up of energy. It moves all around us and through us, linking everything we do, say, think, and feel with many other people, in many other places. Many of us go through our entire lives without ever becoming aware that this energy is the true nature of the Universe. Once you do, however, you will have an enormous resource at your disposal that can make it possible for you to realize your dreams. All of them.”
Youth in India have to realize their true potential and work to realize it to the fullest.
Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee
Professor,Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Sanchar Marg, Dhenkanal, Odisha 759 001. www.mrinalchatterjee.in | firstname.lastname@example.org