Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Psychobabble about youth power

Ever since the 1990s, all the hip oldies have been chanting the mantra of youth, of catering to the young because they are supposed to form 30, 40 and 50 per cent of the 1.2 something billion of India burgeoning population. What this should have meant is more schools, more teachers, more colleges, more professors, more employers and enterpreneurs channelising the energy of this young population. The market gurus have also been talking of youth culture and how it needs to be reckoned with in determining consumer tastes and consumption patterns. This talk about youth remains a bubble – yes something akin to the bubble in economics like housing bubble and stockmarket bubble where assets are overvalued and where there is the imminent boom-bust cycle – because in reality the majority of young people remain without schools and education, without skills and jobs. And the majority of the small segment of youth in metro India who are paid low salaries and made to work 12 to 14 to 16 hours and even 18 hours six-day week are experiencing accelerated ageing, who feel old at 25 and cynical at 30. So, it is the oldies who are building these castles of economic calculus and social matrix based on youth, perhaps indulging in some kind of an unconscious psychological compensation for their own faded youth. The young people on the other hand are quite sober, trying to work their way through a competitive and uncertain adult world, making plans, learning painfully without proper guidance and assurance from those who are older to them. Most popular analysts are looking at the younger lot who belong to the 300 million plus middle class, who attend good schools and colleges, and who are even opting to do their under-grad studies from foreign universities. By the population parameters of most countries in the world, this relatively small upwardly mobile youth segment is sufficiently numerous to stimulate economic growth in the cultural and consumption spheres of education and entertainment. This is also the youth segment that pours out during protest marches nowadays in the metros. There is a larger and a silent youth segment, which can be seen on the streets of the metros and in cities and towns, who are school dropouts, who are unskilled trying to mope some kind of livelihood, from that of collecting garbage in middle class neighbourhoods, cleaning cars, manning parking lots, selling flowers and vegetables, serving an under-aged apprentices to car repair shops, working in dhabas cleaning dishes. There are also thousands andf thousands of them trudging to schools every winter and summer morning, coming out of their cramped houses in dirty alleys in the inner cities and far-fling suburbs of the metros and who will not be able to go to college after they finish school. Their counterparts in the villages are already oabsorbed in domestic chores or going to the fields with the older men because school is a childhood luxury. Talk of demographic dividend – based on the assumption that the larger youth segment promises an energetic and cheap work force – will be nothing but hot air if society at large does not provide opportunities to tap into their economic and social potential. In a decade's time, these young people would have grown old enough to see through the empty rhetoric of youth power.

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