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Role of youth in society


Each age group in society has its own role and this is important in many different ways. Youth as a description of a sector of society has many definitions depending on the perspective being used. For the purposes of this discussion youth will be considered to be the stage of life involving transition into adulthood: approximately age 15 to 25.

Young people are often considered to represent the future as they bring new ideas and energy to add to the pool of knowledge that currently exists. They can bring enthusiasm and vitality which can lead to new discoveries and developments that can benefit society or even the world at large. Although not the only drivers of social change, young people are seen to be one the key drivers engendering change. Whether this is inherent in the beliefs of young people or the hope for the future is placed upon them by older generations is not clear. However, India is changing and developing, and this affects the lives of the people living there in varying degrees depending on their individual circumstances. Therefore, there are many new opportunities becoming available that can provide very different futures for today’s youth that were not available to previous generations. This essay will consider the role of youth in a changing Indian society.

The Role of Young People

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In order to consider the role of young people in India it is helpful to first consider the overall situation in India as this provides the context in which young people are growing up. There are two areas in particular to consider: the transition towards being a developed country and the changes in population. India has made great strides in technology and other areas, including the space programme. However, much of the country remains unaffected by such developments and there is still much to be done to create an inclusive society where the living conditions for the whole population are brought up to an acceptable level and absolute poverty is eradicated. The differences between castes and religions also still remain a factor in the cohesiveness of the population as a whole.

The population of India is also still increasing substantially and is expected to exceed that of China by the middle of this century. The population in 2012 was estimated to be 1.22 billion. In line with world trends life expectancy has also increased in India from 62.3 years for males and 63.9 years for females in 2001-2005 to 67.3 years and 69.6 years respectively in 2011-2015. Birth rates, however, have fallen slightly from crude figures of 22 per 1000 population to 21 per 1000 population between 2011 and 2012 (The World Bank, 2014). However, given the size of the population this still represents a large number of births. One health issue that is also particularly important is HIV/AIDS as there are estimated to be 2.4 million people in India living with the condition (MedIndia, 2014).

These are some of the key elements that affect India at present and which overarch the role of young people in society.

Young people in India today

The youth of India make up approximately a quarter of the population and thus represent a substantial sector of society (Adlakha, 2014). The environment in which they are living is very different to that which was experienced by their parents. As a result many of the traditional values and cultural behaviours are being challenged by the influence of other cultures, particularly those in the West. Therefore, it can be seen that there are competing ways of life that exist which may be considered either a choice or a cause of confusion for young people. However, there are also good role models such as the first Indian-born woman to go into space, Kalpana Chawla, that show what can be achieved by Indian people male or female.

Young people in India are considered to be vitally important as they will bring new ideas and developments to improve their country where older people are viewed as unable to be innovative or deal with new ideas. This perception differs from the views of young people and indeed the structure of society in general that exists in the West. Western perceptions do place young people in a strong position but, possibly due to a substantially longer life expectancy, there is a less dismissive view of older people, certainly in respect of those of working age. The roles of people in a other age ranges in addition to young people are considered to be valuable as each contribute differently to society as a whole. This does not extend in many cases to the elderly, however, but the longer life span in the West presents a different set of issues (Kruger & Poster, 1990, p. 72). India is keen for their young people to become involved in civil society and develop political interest as this seen to be a vital part of the development of the country. In many ways there would appear to be a great deal of pressure being placed on the younger generation to move India into more developed and progressive country.

The ability of the young people to fully participate in this way, however, is inhibited by two main factors. The first is the level of education, which also will be indicative of their wealth status, and the second is their caste and/or religious position. The better educated the young person is the more likely they are to participate more fully in civil society according to available research. Therefore, increasing the level of education across the country is important to develop the skills in the young people to enable to undertake the type of jobs that will help India develop. There is a substantial problem with illiteracy across the population, and even children attending school are leaving education still illiterate. This is particularly the case for the children from the poorest sectors of society. Unesco's 11th Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report suggests, amongst other factors, that at the present rate of progress the poorest women in India will not be universally literate until 2080 (UNESCO, 2013/14). Therefore, unless this is addressed the pressure on young people to improve India will not produce the required results as there will be insufficient desire and capability to make the improvements a reality. There may also need to be a change of thinking generally in society to develop a desire for education and a belief that education is important to improve the standards of living for everyone. For the poorest people earning a living may be more important than education and even young children are needed to contribute. Child labour is still a major issue in India and will impact on the children’s ability to ever improve their lives (US Department of Labour, 2013, p. np). There is legislation in place in the form of The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 (Indian Child Line, nd), which, if observed and enforced, should prevent this.

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The caste system and/or religious beliefs also present barriers to a cohesive progress despite the changes made to eliminate these problems (Zezulka-Mailloux & Gifford, 2003, p. 156). This is a complex system with many ramifications which will not be discussed at length here but which does have a substantial influence on how people live in India. The way that different groups within the population view each other can be divisive, with even those people considered to have more secular views not wishing to eat with others from a different group, in some cases not even wanting to speak with them, or other similar types of segregation. This creates an atmosphere in which some people are more likely to be able to progress whilst others will be open to oppression. Thus the overall situation has many factors working at the same time, some which are conducive to progress and others that are barriers.

The specific ways in which India is planning progress into the future are contained within the India 2020 Report which considers the vision for the future of India, the opportunities and the challenges in respect of human development, infrastructure, energy and many other areas (Kalam & Rajan, 2002). The Report indicates that the changes already taking place in the country are bringing about shifts in many areas such as in the population with lower birth rates and anticipated increased life expectancy. The effect of these changes is likely to be felt in different ways depending upon how affluent the person is. For poorer people their situation is still very difficult and much more will need to change to enable and empower this group of people to improve their lives. The India 2020 Report also identified Nodal Points for Indian prosperity. In order for these Points to be effective the population will need to know what is required and pull together to achieve these goals. Within this plan there is clear evidence of the reliance that is being placed on young people to carry out these plans and be the key changing force in the country. However, whilst acknowledging the levels of poverty and all the other barriers that currently exist to gaining good levels of education and an improved standard of living across the country, the impact of poverty does not always seem to be seen as a major factor in the ability of the young people to fill this role.

India 2020 proposes a range of factors that will improve the country for the whole population. This includes aiming for full employment, improvements to the judicial system and legislature to create systems that are seen to be operating with integrity, fairness and transparency, cleaning the environment, achieving literacy and numeracy for all and making India a major nation in the world. This must, however, be achieved by creating a fair society for every part of the population. One element that is of concern is the ‘brain drain’ of skilled people leaving the country. India needs to finds ways of retaining well trained young people to carry out the vision for the future. At present many young people perceive that there are more opportunities for them elsewhere rather than wanting to stay in their home country and improve conditions there (Glennie & Chappell, 2010). If the country wishes young people to take a major leading role in progress it will be necessary to provide the appropriate motivation for them to want to do this. Furthermore, in order to improve the conditions in the country as a whole more trained people are needed to create and fill the jobs that will increase prosperity. There must, of course, then be relevant jobs for the young people to take. Creating an environment that places value on education, work, and creating a good work ethic is very important to making effective progress towards a more economically successful country. This process will also begin to reduce the disparity between the rich and poor, with the ultimate goal of absolute poverty being eradicated (although eradicating relative poverty may prove more difficult) and improving the lives of the poorest in society.

The spiritual aspect of life is important in India and many people are guided in their lives by their beliefs. There are even newer beliefs such as Bahá'í, which places emphasis on a number of areas that are important in the changes indicated by India 2020. Bahá'í places importance on training for a trade or profession, and particularly on the often neglected area of education for women. In addition there is also a focus on ensuring young people have every opportunity to enter work which is of service to others by virtue of one’s skills and abilities (Bahá'í, 2014). This type of approach could be very helpful to young people to help to develop a good work ethic and the sense of community by helping others. It also emphasises the need for good moral and spiritual standards to support the young person’s working life. This is only one of the religions/beliefs in India, but it does indicate the way in which secular and religious aspects of life are more integrated than is common in western countries.

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The desire to adhere to religious beliefs can be both a positive and negative factor for young people depending on their particular religion and the way in which is directs them to behave as people. One area of concern in this respect currently is that of the recruitment of young people by terrorist organisations. This is clearly an issue from the point of view of the activities of such organisations, but it also takes valuable young people out of society.

The International Year of Youth (first held in 1985),was supported by Bahá'í, who continue to support the ongoing activities of that organisation (United Nations, 2014). This has widened in scope in the form of The World Programme for Action of Youth (United Nations, 2014). In order to promote youth involvement it is recommended by Bahá'í that young men and women should be encouraged to take part in projects that aim to improve living conditions, increase the quality of human life, and develop the self-reliance of their communities. Projects that are improving the situation for rural communities are particularly highlighted as ones which are important for young people to engage with. Young people can also play an important role in the quest for world peace.

Young people have been a main focus for some time in India, and specific initiatives have been sought to involve young people in a range of topics. The Youth Day 2008 focussed on "Youth and Climate change: Time for action." During this event Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, addressed the meeting (Pandve, et al., 2009, p. 105). In this address he indicated that young people are adaptable and can easily incorporate carbon saving methods into their everyday life. Therefore, it was important that young people were actively included in local, national and global level decisions on climate. In this way they will improve the world for their own futures and that of their children. Involving young people in making changes to their everyday life is one main aspect of the role they are required to play in society.

Further initiatives will be needed to address many of the difficulties to support young people. Looking at those offered in other countries could provide useful information, such that of “The Promoting Tolerance and Dialogue through Interactive Theater” in Eastern Indonesia. This is a one-year program funded by Great Britain's Strategic Program Fund and implemented by IREX Europe, IREX and the Center for Civic Education Indonesia (CCEI). This is a programme that uses theatre to provide the dialogue to work on prevention of conflict, extremism and intolerance (IREX, nd). This particular programme has now ended but could be used as a model for future activities. With the difficulties that are currently being seen as a result of terrorism this is an area of extreme importance and different methods of approaching the topic can be used to spread the message to young people.

The call for young people to be involved in India politics began with Gandhi, who asked the youth of the day to come forward to become actively involved in the freedom movemen (Atkin, 2012, p. np). However, there are still few young people involved in the political arena. Most elected politicians are aged 50 or over whilst most of the voting public are under 40 (Ruland, et al., 2005, p. 181). This suggests either that younger people are happy with this situation or perhaps that they have little interest or enthusiasm for politics. There can be confusion here when there is a suggestion that the older leaders should make way for ‘youth’, because in this context the word ‘youth’ is used just to mean people younger than others, i.e. perhaps people in their 30s or 40s rather than very young people with no experience. This is something that is discussed widely in the media (Jain, 2009). This use of ‘youth’ to mean different age groups, between 15 and 40 plus, can present a confusing message to readers.

Poverty reduction is a major issue in India and there has been work across the world that suggests that involving young people in creating change to reduce poverty, and other important such issues, is vital and more effective than allowing them to simply be the target for development. This may be promoted from within India or it may be helpful for outside agencies already working in this area with young people to help set up relevant initiatives (The National Council of Swedish Youth Organisations, 2009, p. 8).

It is interesting to consider the more popular representations of the role that young people should play in society. There is a marked view that older people should step down in preference to younger people because only younger people have the ability to create change. The knowledge and experience of older people is acknowledged but it can frequently be seen that there is pressure for them to take a ‘back seat’, and only advise and guide, but not to actively participate (Kumar, 1998, p. 234). There does not as yet appear to be any research to demonstrate how this will affect society and the way that younger people feature, particularly in political and other such positions. However, it does appear to reduce the respect and reverence in which older people have customarily been held, which could be seen to be more in line with a more western approach where youth culture has become prominent.


India is a vast country with an enormous population that is increasing quite rapidly. There is a definite move towards becoming a developed country but there are still many problems to be solved. Comparing the situation in India with western countries presents challenges, as the cultural and social situation is very different and there are very different belief structures. One key factor is that young people are considered to be almost the ‘saving grace’ for the country. Great reliance is placed on young people becoming educated and increasing the status and economic profitability of the country. This is set, however, against poverty and poor educational offerings and achievement for large sections of the population. Providing more equal opportunities for men and women and eradicating child labour are two areas that will take great effort to resolve given and enormous number of people involved.

There have been great improvements in areas such as IT and space development which has meant that some sectors of the youth have been able to move into those areas. However, in order to make the progress that is sought for India to become a developed country, young people need to be motivated in directions that will achieve that goal. There is a substantial concern regarding young people being drawn into terrorism, and major changes in law and order remain to be achieved. So it can be seen that there is much to be done and directives in place to work towards those aims. However, this does appear to place a great deal of responsibility and reliance on younger people to make this happen.


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