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 Youth
In order to consider the role of youths 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.
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
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.
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
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
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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