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Indifferent political activism of youth

Indifferent political activism of youth
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K Radhakrishna Murty & K Babji The United Nations has defined youth as those between the ages of 15 and 24 years without prejudice to other...

K Radhakrishna Murty & K Babji

The United Nations has defined youth as those between the ages of 15 and 24 years without prejudice to other definitions offered by member states. Accordingly, the current global youth population is about 1.2 billion; that is nearly 20 percent of the total world population. While around 85 percent of the world's youth live in developing nations, 15 percent in the developed countries. Asia alone has 62.4 percent of the global youth population followed by Africa (14%), Europe (10.2%), Latin America and the Caribbeans (9.3 %), North America (4%) and Oceania (0.1%).

The 2011 Census indicates that 35 percent of India's total population is youth in the broad age cohort of 15 to 34 years. Youth can be the greatest asset to any nation and the values they hold can integrate or disintegrate the society in which they live. Indian society is massive and polymorphous and our civic engagement historically has come in many sizes and shapes.

Our civic engagement ranges widely across various sectors and sections of this complex society in varied forms of people's participation in the public forums (politics and public affairs), clubs and community associations, religious bodies, picnics and parties and work-related organizations such as unions and professional bodies, philanthropy, volunteering and reciprocity.

In each of these domains today, the youth are encountering currents and cross-currents and were even overtaken by treacherous rip currents. As a result, when compared to the past, of late, our youth have been pulled apart from one another and from our communities and neighbourhoods � silently. Community bonds in our society have weakened steadily.

Our youth are reasonably content about our economic prospects but are not equally convinced that they are on the right track morally or culturally due to waning community life. They remain interested as critical spectators of the public scene.

They are less connected with the neighbours and the community. They maintain a façade of formal affiliations but rarely show up. They have invented new ways of expressing their demands but never discharge their duties. They are less likely to turn out for collective deliberation � whether in the voting booth or the meeting hall � and when they do they find that discouragingly few of their friends and neighbours have shown up.

The youth are less generous with their money and with their time. The youth are withdrawing from the networks of reciprocity that once constituted our communities. Today we are worse off as a nation because of our less involvement in community activities when compared to our earlier generations.

Grass roots groups that once brought us face to face with our neighbours, the agreeable and disagreeable alike, are overshadowed by the vertiginous rise of self-led interest groups, purposely built to represent our narrower selves. This mysterious disengagement that started prior to the 1990s has aggravated further after the 1990s due to globalization which has afflicted all echelons of our society.

The present generation of youth is the product of the incredible sociological change brought by the recent economic liberalization that took place in the country. Liberalization and globalization has created a new social contract in which making money is respectable. Young Indians endorse it heartily.

Commercialization of leisure activities for the young, particularly through the mass media, is a subject of considerable concern in the country today. Not only does the commodity � consumption nature of leisure, particularly in urban settings, breed passivity and stifle creative activity among youth, it also transmits taste, attitudes, and information in a virtual one-way flow from media producers to media consumers.

All this has aggravated the situation further which resulted in confining our youth's communication with their peers who share precisely their interests, not others which is a threat to bridging social capital through varied social networks. The net result is that our community settings today sustain not a single, tightly integrated community, but a mosaic of loosely coupled communities suffering from disintegration of community life, civic malaise and community pathology.

Despite improvements in the levels of education and awareness among the present day youth, what we witness today is youth's poor participation in political culture, their alienation from politics, declining confidence in political activity of all sorts, low participation in voting , poor attendance at public meetings, and less likely to voice their views publicly. In short, most of the youth remain reasonably well informed spectators of public affairs but very few of them actually partake in the game.

In addition, the broad picture that emerged in recent times is one of declining membership of youth in community organizations, civic associations of all sorts and their poor civic participation. More important, our youth's active involvement in clubs and other voluntary associations has collapsed at an astonishing rate. Many claim, of course, that they are members of various organizations, but most of them no longer spend much time in community organization.

They stopped even doing community work. Their active involvement in informal, face to face organizations has plummeted. In short, Indian youth have been dropping out in droves not merely from political life, but even from organized community life. Instead, what is needed today is youth's committed and increased levels of civic, public and political participation.

(K Radhakrishna Murty is the UGC Emeritus Professor and K Babji is the Teacher Associate, Department of Sociology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam)

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