People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 43

October 24, 2010

Empower the Youth


R Arun Kumar



THE entire country is one in saluting the youth who did us proud in the Commonwealth Games. India is one of the few young countries in the world with an enormous potential of human resources to harness for its growth and development. There are 45.9 crore young people in our country – 37.9 per cent of the country's population – who are aged between 13-35 years. This is the age-group that is officially categorised as youth according to the National Youth Policy (2003). It would be of enormous advantage to the country if this huge potential is properly nurtured.


A National Youth Readership Survey (NYRS-2009) undertaken at the behest of the National Book Trust by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) has brought out interesting facts on the prevailing trends among youth. According to the Survey, 72.8 per cent of the youth, 33.3 crore, are literate. Among them, around a fifth are doing unpaid housework and just over one in ten have a regular salaried job or are wage earners. 73 per cent of the literate youth in the country are from the Scheduled Castes (22.7 percent), Scheduled Tribes (9.8 percent) and Other Backward Classes (40.3 percent).


Data shows that 76 per cent of the literate youth have not gone to college. This is because, according to another study, every year 93 lakh students want to go to college but only 30 lakh seats are available. For admission into the premier educational institutions in our country, the gap between what is needed and what is available becomes even more huge. For IIT admission, there are 7000 aspirants at each mark point in the entrance examination! All these statistics show that many are forced to give up their educational aspirations mid-way. Thus, we find only 10 per cent of the youth from the concerned age-group in higher education, which is well below the world and Asian average. US president Obama is pointing at this small percentage of educated youth and exhorting the American youth to 'wake-up to their challenge'. Just think about the distances the country can go, if opportunities are made available for all the aspiring youth to pursue their dreams!


Another important fact established by these studies is that most of the successful youth are either from middle class or higher middle class families. The policies of privatisation and commercialisation of education are increasingly converting education into a privilege rather than a right. It is money that decides to what extent one can study, more than talent. If education is made accessible to all, it would open the gates of huge reservoir of talents that can be successfully used for nation building.




Similar is the case with employment. Crores of our youth are unemployed or without any regular, assured employment. Unemployment among those between 15-24 years in rural areas was 12-15 per cent in 2004-05 according to the ministry of labour. Without a secure employment to eke out their livelihood, youth are naturally concerned and worried about their future. The growth rate of the labour force is higher than the growth rate of population and the growth rate of employment has not been in proportion to GDP growth. Lack of dynamism in the private industrial and service sectors, coupled with the shrinking government sector has constrained the growth of employment opportunities. Instead of addressing this issue, the government is adopting a 'hands-off approach', arguing that in a liberalised world, it is for the market to provide opportunities and for an individual to grab them. The hollowness of this neo-liberal view is once again exposed by the current global economic crisis. Even in India, the crisis has resulted in the loss of lakhs of existing jobs and a potential 80 lakh jobs could not be created because of the crisis, adding to the already bulging unemployment figures. With an additional 110 million youngsters to be added to the workforce by 2020, the future looks bleak in terms of ensuring employment to all.


The escalation of unemployment, especially among the educated youth, renders waste whatever social and material investments made in education. It deprives the country from putting to positive use their  productive time and energy. Secondly, these youth would become susceptible to various vices. Reports indicate that alcoholism among youth has increased by 100 per cent in the past 10 years.


Right from the first Five Year Plan, the government has been repeatedly stating its intentions of giving primacy to the youth. But the reality is, the government has failed to live true to its grandiose statements and has never even reviewed the reasons for its failure. Moreover, with the current government’s insistence on implementing the neo-liberal policies, these goals would never be reached. Instead of addressing and changing this reality, the government is trying to mask it and 'educate' the people to ignore it.




The NCAER Survey also states that 77 per cent of the youth are interested in music and films and television engages most of their time, followed by radio. Interestingly, the internet is accessed by only 3.7 per cent of the youth. The mainstream media has a tremendous impact and influence on the youth today. It brazenly promotes consumerism and individualism in such a manner that the primary ambition becomes to 'get-rich-quick' at any cost. This is confirmed by a survey done by the Coca Cola. Not surprisingly, reality shows, which shower 'instant money' on the winners, grab the most TRP ratings. Youth are influenced to dream about this 'illusionary world' than bother too much about their present reality. Besides, they run a sustained campaign against politicians and political process to create a sense of apathy and cynicism towards both. Along with these, as Terry Eagleton states, “Watching television for long stretches confirms individuals in passive, isolated, privatised roles and consumes a good deal of time that could be put to productive political uses”.


The Survey states that only 30 per cent of the youth expressed their interest in politics, even while 72 per cent expressed their interest in current affairs. This shows that while the youth of the country are concerned about the issues and problems of the country, they are not so much inclined to be part of the political process. While the former is heartening, the later is not. This entire situation creates a dangerous and volatile cocktail – a combination of discontent generated due to the failure in realising their dreams as they lack opportunities and a cynical attitude towards politics and political process. This is the 'ideal condition' on which all sorts of divisive forces thrive. Look at Kashmir. The youth there, are deprived of opportunities and repeatedly let down by the ruling class parties which breeds cynicism and a feeling of alienation. The separatists are trying to use this discontent to further their divisive agenda.


The religious fundamentalists also would exploit this situation. They would try to take advantage of the fact that a large number of youth, 59 per cent, expressed their interest in religion. In order to prevent these kinds of divisive forces from taking advantage of the situation, urgent steps should be initiated to tap the latent energies of the youth for constructive purposes. Youth have to be properly empowered through education, employment and, of course, given a say in the decision making process. The inherent cultural and artistic talents of the youth should be identified, nurtured and properly groomed. They should be made aware of the rich, composite, secular culture of our country and its history of tolerance.


If the government provides necessary support for everyone to pursue education according to their talent and interest we could reap benefits from our numerical strength. This is as much true for employment. The recently concluded Commonwealth Games are a small example to show how even little opportunities made available to the budding talents would go a long way in bringing laurels to the country. Krishna Poonia, a discus throw gold medallist in these games said the medals she and her colleagues have won shows, “what we can do – if we get the opportunity”. The 'if' is indeed a capital 'IF'. To replace the indecisive 'if' with a confident 'yes', it needs a sustained struggle. This is intrinsically linked with the struggle to burst the ideological 'mask of illusion' weaved by the ruling classes.


As Gramsci states, the consciousness of the oppressed is usually a contradictory amalgam of values imbibed from their rulers, and notions which spring more directly from their practical experience. These two are dialectically opposite and give rise to friction. Explaining the reasons for their practical experience and real conditions, we should help the people in questioning the neo-liberal values and lead the fight for their genuine rights. This is the only way to realise the true potential of our youth. It will also ensure the country's march into the future with its head held high and unity intact.