by PN Benjamin, Bangalore
I feel quite young when I am with young people. Mind you, I am 66 years old. But, I can definitely relate to the youth and connect with them effortlessly. I have always felt that young people in our country don’t get enough seniors to engage with youngsters, open spaces where they can brainstorm about issues. They have many questions but nobody really is there to answer them. They are being influenced by all kinds of things -media, societal, family pressure etc. Whenever I get an opportunity to interact with young people I thoroughly enjoy it. The candidness with which the young talk, ask questions, share their dilemmas, and I share my experiences. I have always enjoyed that. And that’s why I am here today.
There is the fading away of idealism today. There was a time when idealism was seen as a good thing but today it’s seen as a foolish thing to be. ‘Nobody encourages idealism in India‘s youth today’.Idealism is what propels youngsters, motivates them. It’s like wanting to dream. If you don’t dream you have nowhere to go. In terms of idealism, and I don’t want to give a very cynical picture because there are still a lot of young people. As the one in charge of public relations in an engineering college, I meet youngsters who are absolute gems, who in their own way are trying to make a difference. Though smaller in number but for that I don’t think I need to blame them because it’s just that nobody encourages idealism in the youth today.
The young people in India today are confused. They don’t have enough forums where their questions can be answered to satisfaction. They don’t have relationships with their parents, teachers, peers where they can really get answers to their deeper dilemmas. If there were some idealistic young people in India there would be 20 other people to pull them down.
The challenges India’s youth face in the second decade of the 21st century are manifold. For instance, in the field of education, do we have enough institutes? Does the disadvantaged community get a chance to reach where the privileged are?
There is reservation but that again is a faulty system. We need more affirmative action where people who have been left out because of historical and social reasons need to come at par with others. A lot of rural youth do not want to do farming or rural work because there are less and less takers for it. Unemployment is a major problem with young people. So when we talk of Indian youth we talk of a spectrum of young people.
Many young people are attracted to the politics of chauvinism, language, caste and religion these days. The young would any day choose the more sustainable, life-giving option than getting into the politics of language, caste or religion. The reason they don’t is because they are nameless, stateless people with no sense of identity. When you make them feel so miserable the only way in which they can grab attention is by asserting their identities. Many of them are brainwashed into believing that caste, religion, region and, language will give them some sense of self-worth.
By and large our young people are not communal. They just want to get along with their life and survive. But when there is that emptiness, when there is nothing to latch on to and they are given the bait that they have something to be proud of, they start getting communal.
Of course, we have a history of divide and rule. But we all are basically good people and instead of fighting against just the communal forces we should create more positive energy, understand the merits of a pluralistic society, which is what we are.
I am sure there is lot of youngsters out there in different parts of India who are driven, committed and who have the potential to inspire the country’s youth. But they are not popular, not in the media gaze so we don’t know they exist.
BANISH CYNICISM, CULTIVATE OPTIMISM
Are you not proud that we are a great nation, that we have so many amazing success stories in recent times? We are the first in milk production. We are number one in remote sensing satellites. We are the second largest producer of wheat. We are the second largest producer of rice. Pharmaceutical industry remains a growth story, with revenue growing at over 20 per cent a year. Software remains a stellar success story.
Winston Churchill once described India a mere geographical term, no more united than equator. But isn’t Bharat the Upanishadic universality, the Gandhian Hindu Swaraj and a composite, cultural heritage? Bharat is more profound than a geographical project. It is a political integration, a cultural synthesis, a beautiful blend of the finest thought humanity has, in its noblest vision, beheld. But have we surrendered this Tagorean perspective to the gory syndrome governed by a “barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings?”
During the freedom struggle, young revolutionaries mounted the gallows singing Rabindranath Tagore’s memorable lines: “Blessed is my life that I am born in this land”. Thousands of known and unknown heroes perished or survived as physical wrecks in the Andamans and jails all over the country To be proud of belonging to our motherland was the constant injunction that the young generation of freedom fighters had to abide by. It was the same spirit, which could be suppressed neither by the bullet and the bullying of the British Raj nor by the incessant ideological refrain of the white man’s superiority.
Our youth is not callous or for that matter indifferent to the various challenges facing the nation, be it Naxalism, terrorism, communal tensions, poverty etc. But the politics around them is so vile and banal that it is difficult for them to be charged with commitment, heroism and sacrifice.
We must learn to practise the art of banishing cynicism and start learning to cultivate positive thinking within us. “I live today in the hope that a Saviour is coming, that he will be born in our midst in this poverty-shamed hovel which is India. I shall wait to hear the message he brings with him, the supreme word of promise he speaks unto man from this eastern horizon to give faith and strength to all who hear. I look back on the stretch of past years and see the crumbling ruins of a proud civilization lying heaped as garbage out of history! And yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in Man, accepting his present defeat as final. I shall look forward to a turning in history after the cataclysm is over and the sky is again unburdened and passionless.” (Rabindranath Tagore- Crisis in Civilisation)
In an atmosphere surcharged with cynicism on the one hand and despair on the other, we would do well to go out anywhere, amidst the din and bustle of the factories, among the IT professionals or the vast expanses of the fields, in the beehive of busy offices or in the boisterous, crowded campuses – among men, women, the young and the old – you will hear a thousand and one questions why things have gone wrong and what’s the way out of it.
Dedicated men and women, sacrificing comfort and many allurements of the consumerist society are building a new India in the remote villages and hilly regions of this vast land of ours. There abound in this country today men and women of finest moral qualities, experts in their respective fields seeking to advance the frontiers of knowledge and to serve the community by disseminating it to the public. In the prevailing darkness they move about like figures in silhouettes; soon the sun shall arrive and identify them, and among them shall be seen new leaders with a new message of enriched patriotism. A new resolve to make this land of ours a better place to live in. The saga of such endeavours is hardly publicised by the media addicted to the burlesque of present-day politics. But they give us reasons for hope.
Finally, stand up for what you think is right: Too many of us are trying hard to be politically correct masking what we actually think is right. There is no harm or shame in saying what you think is right. Like Mahatma Gandhi said, he would always stand by and say what he felt was the truth and do what he felt was the right thing – even if the entire world was stacked against him.
Have pride in your culture and your roots. If you think you do not have an illustrious past to bask in, then you have the unique opportunity of being the torch-bearer of an entire family, perhaps community through your achievements.
(Talk delivered at the three-day Yuva Bharat2020- A youth Convention held Jigini, Bangalore on 25 Feb. 2012. More than 1000 young people from all over India participated)