This National Youth Day comes close on the heels of the protests for and against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Instead of being in denial, we should analyse to see whether there are teachable moments for the youth and for the society at large.
Before we pass judgements on the “misguided and passionate youth”, let us do a quick detour into neurobiology. Emotions are controlled in human beings by the limbic system. In fact, it is also the seat of spirituality and great art. It wires us in a way to connect beyond ourselves. The cortex controls the rational part of our behaviour. The limbic system overpowers the cortex most of the time and hence almost all decisions that we make are, in that sense, irrational. Consequently, the answer to the great philosophical question of ‘Is there free will?’, is a no, at least according to neurobiology.
As much as the young, when the adults say they act rationally, they act on “emotions that makes him/her feel rational”. So our own human limitations as adults should be kept in mind when we criticise the youth.
A reasonable corollary from the above is that anger creates its own reasons. Whether the young felt passionately only on the CAA issue or whether they were upset already and found a reason through CAA is point that should be analysed.
The college goers are bundle of incredibly wide range of emotions triggered by hormonal changes that happen during the transition to adulthood. Many would have left home and might be just getting used to being alone. There are anxieties about studies, the future, first deep relationships, etc. Then there is the rebellious streak of being underdogs and the newfound freedom to question authority.
Currently, the economy is not doing well by the exacting standards we have set for ourselves as a country (though globally we are still among the fastest growing economies). But the slowdown has created a sense of nervousness among youngsters about jobs.
Our median age is around 28 and we are in the midst of an economy that is vastly changing in character. Factory floors are being automated and reports say that even white-collar jobs might not be spared in the near future. We are also in peak globalisation where companies can move anywhere quite easily.
Also, we are in the era of the gig economy. Jobs are numerous, in a particular pay scale of around Rs. 20,000 per month with, no certainties attached with the job. The technological change is so fast paced that about a decade ago nobody knew about Android software or programming in it, for which there is large demand now.
Our education system has perhaps been ill-equipped to adapt to such a fast changing skills scenario. We should be worried when our computer science graduates have to obtain extra certifications for being competitive in the job market.
The enlisting of the aforesaid problems is to evoke sympathy for the current youngsters. They are confronting a world that is unlike what a generation before them faced. Nevertheless, there are many fixes with which the anxieties of the current generation can be assuaged.
First is sustained economic growth. The current slowdown is temporary that is a mix of cyclical, structural and global factors. The recent economic reforms such as in taxation will be the foundation of the modern economy. Global factors are beyond our control, though there are signs of easing there as well with the mellowing of the trade war.
The second is tied to the first. One of the structural factors hampering progress is our rigid labour market. Though we are reforming the labour laws slowly, the reforms in education and skill development leaves much to be desired. A frank and forthright skill-gap assessment, a focus on the use of technology on a massive scale and dismantling of the entrenched education bureaucracy are much needed. Unfortunately, even the draft new education policy has not captured the aspirations of the generation and hence not been bold in its recommendations.
The third is putting an end to the politicisation of universities. This author has argued elsewhere that student body elections should be banned all over India like it is in states like Tamil Nadu. College students should focus all their energies on academics and co-curricular activities to make themselves equipped to contest in the fiercely competitive global job market. Student body elections bring out the worst instincts among students—including casteism and communalism—which many try to escape going to universities. Political parties and ideologues masquerading as professors must be prevented from taking advantage of the impressionable minds for selfish political ends.
Fourth, modern society can be alienating with the fraying of institutions such as families (working parents, single child, no grandparents), social isolation through rise in the use of personal technology and so on. It is important that spiritual institutions step up to fill the inner void. Our youngsters should be made of aware of the fact that they are sitting in a veritable spiritual supermarket called Hinduism in which any seeker can find his/her own path.
This is perhaps one area in which intellectuals are failing our youngsters. How many TV shows or articles have you seen on talking about issues of the future and Hindu spirituality together? Our dharmic intellectuals are in the comfort zones of talking about the past all the time. While it is necessary to reclaim the intellectual space from the left-liberal intelligentsia that has systematically distorted our history, our thought leaders will be failing in their duties if they don’t offer guidance to our youngsters on issues that they face.
Not just for the Indian youth, our dharmic intellectuals should avoid distractions and focus squarely on the future for the sake of the world. As a species we are at a point where old monotheistic theologies are unable to satisfy the need for the “personalised seeking” of individuals. Foreigners flocking to Indian spiritual cities like Rishikesh is a sign of it. Our grand treasures in scriptures have to be unearthed from decaying libraries and reincarnated to answer the puzzles of the modern world.
Seen in this context, Swami Vivekananda’s teachings are timeless. He said, “From time immemorial India has been the mine of precious ideas to human society; giving birth to high ideas herself, she has freely distributed them over the whole world.” It is for our generation to act on it. India’s road from good to great can only be built on the path already paved by spiritual sufficiency.
(The writer is a columnist)