The “Generation Z”, “millennials” and the “social media generation”, however, received high praise from the Prime Minister.
In the backdrop of youth-led agitations against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in universities all over the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the latest edition of his Mann Ki Baat (yes, it was the very last one in 2019), averred that the Indian young person possessed an innate dislike for anarchy. He held out high hopes for them in terms of their contributions to nation-building, and rightly, given the size of their demographic, their talent and expertise sets, all of which he openly acknowledged.
It is true that India’s youth has the potential of playing an important role in nation-building, but one must not forget that they also suffer the lack of decent educational opportunities and unemployment, and they additionally bear the burden of various anxieties. Their massive participation in recent protests, be they on the issue of increased fees and arbitrary changes to university and hostel rules or the CAA, are a sign of these multiple, deep-seated systemic malaises. Treating them as a mere law and order issue and their participants as minds misled by the Opposition would, therefore, be misguided.
The “Generation Z”, “millennials” and the “social media generation”, however, received high praise from the Prime Minister. “All of us experience that this generation is extremely talented. It thrives on dreams to do something new, something different. It has its own set of opinions. And the best part is, especially in the case of India, they appreciate the system, they prefer to follow the system. And in the event of system not responding properly, they get restless and even courageously question the system itself,” he said, adding that he himself considers this attribute to be a virtue. But he emphasised that “the country’s youth detest anarchy of any sort, as well as lack of governance, instability, nepotism, casteism, favouritism and gender discrimination”.
Various studies conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies during the last decade indicate that India’s youth suffers from various anxieties, unemployment being one. The data from a 2017 study indicates 73 per cent of Indian youth shared anxiety about employment (46 per cent a great deal of anxiety and 27 per cent some anxiety). Anxiety with regard to jobs is most seen among youth in the age group 18 to 25 years. The youth also share anxiety about missing opportunities for a good education (54 per cent), especially those in the age group of 15-17 years (83 per cent), and those aged 18-21 years (74 per cent). But these are not the only anxieties the Indian youth share, they even fear possibilities of being targets of mob violence and riots. The Indian youth also bear anxieties regarding personal and parental health alongside other family problems.
There are various reasons behind Indian youth having these anxieties. Negative societal discrimination is one of those. Prime Minister Modi rightly pointed out that sex-based discrimination was prevalent among Indian youth. The CSDS study, too, seconds that finding. It also shows prevalence of bias based on other identities, namely, caste, religion, class and region. While religion-based discrimination is faced more by Muslims as compared to others, dalits and adivasis are the targets of caste-based discrimination.
Participation of young people from various social groups in movements during the last one decade is also a result of this discrimination. It will be completely wrong to think that they are dancing to the tune of the Opposition in this regard or are being brainwashed by the tukde-tukde gang or anti-national forces. A very large number of young people have admitted to not being a member of a political party. Still, their participation in protests went up from 12 per cent in year 2011 to about 25 per cent in 2013. One must recall that this is the time that India witnessed Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption and the social movement on the Nirbhaya issue. The figures of youth participation in protest demonstrations declined to 12 per cent during 2016-17 as young people perceived the government to be doing well. The country had witnessed various agitations by the end of 2019 and there is massive participation of young people in these movements.
Besides the immediate reason which angers youth and motivates them to participate in agitations and protests, increased interest in politics has also worked as a catalyst for youth’s increased presence in such movements over the last decade. Minister for human resource development Ramesh Pokhriyal may be right in the respect of not allowing universities to become “a hub of politics”, but students’ interest in politics is on the rise all the same. Also, it will be difficult to think of universities that are not a space for legitimate political activities. The CSDS study indicates that in 1996 only 30 per cent of Indian youth had an interest in politics. That number is 52 per cent in recent times. One must recognise the fact that this is nothing new — even in the past universities have been seats of political thought and many leaders of the present and the past are the product of student politics and student movements. Who knows that these new movements might not give the country its political leaders from Generation Next?