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India's poor don't participate in protests, as young professionals, business people, skilled workers do: Study

By Rajiv Shah
A recent study has starkly revealed that, in the recent past, the poorer and oppressed sections of the Indian youth have refused to go out and take part in protest movements as vehemently as the youth from the middle classes have done, even as the number of participants in protests, too, has gone down.
Prepared jointly by the Delhi-based Centre for the Study in Developing Societies (CSDS) and the German Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), and titled “Attitudes, anxieties and aspirations of India’s youth: changing patterns”, the report finds that “participation in protests and demonstrations among the youth is relatively higher among some occupational groups”, but is lower among unemployed, women, semi-skilled and unskilled workers.
According to the study, running into 180 pages, “More than one-fourth of youngsters engaged in business (27%) said that they had participated in a protest in the last two years.” It adds, “Professionals, government employees and skilled and service workers are also relatively more likely to take part in protests.”
However, it says, “Participation seems to be relatively lower among those engaged in agriculture (14%) and unskilled labour (17%).” It adds, “Only a small fraction, less than one-sixth of the students, said that they had participated in a protest in the last two years.”
“High participation in protests among professionals, government employees and skilled workers can be attributed to multiple factors. Relatively better economic well-being provides them with adequate resources for participating in political activities”, the study says.
“Also, these occupational groups also have stronger collective bodies. For instance, many professions have an apex body collective that represents them”, it adds.
According to the study, several “impede/facilitate participation in public activities like protests”, which include “opportunity cost of participation, social factors and associational activity.”
“A combination of these factors may explain the occupational category wise trends in participation”, the study says, adding, “Agricultural workers and unskilled labourers are concentrated in the informal sector of the economy which has limited formal associational activity”, the study says.
It underlines, “While we do find farmer organisations in the agriculture sector, there are very few bodies which exclusively work for agricultural labourers or marginal farmers. Also, most individuals in these sectors work as daily wage labourers. Thus, they have a high opportunity cost of political participation as it leads to a direct loss of income.”
The study, which is based on a survey conducted in 19 states of the country among 6122 respondents in the age group of 15-34 years in the months of April and May 2016, says poor participation of youths from the oppressed sections happened despite the fact that there seemed to be a spurt of unrest across India over the last two years, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over.
The unrest included “the 139 day student strike at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, in protest against Gajendra Chauhan’s nomination as the institute’s Chairman, mass protests in various universities across the country after Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar at Hyderabad Central University (HCU) committed suicide, the alleged ‘anti-national’ sloganeering at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the subsequent arrest of students on charges of sedition.”
The study insists, “These protests are merely a few instances, over the last two years, which highlight youth engagement with politics outside mainstream electoral politics.”
Calling protests and demonstrations are “an important political activity as on most occasions they are either in opposition to/support of a state policy/action or for demanding state intervention on an issue”, the study says, “In the present survey, one-sixth of the Indian youth (15%) said that they had participated in a protest and demonstration in the last two years.”
It adds, “The level of youth participation in protests had increased substantially between 2011 and 2013, but there has been a sharp decline in 2016. The level of participation currently is higher than the 2011 survey. In 2011, only 12 percent of youth said that they had taken part in a protest or demonstration.”
“This increased to 24 percent in 2013”, says the study, was because of the “the Anna Hazare-led ‘anti-corruption’ movement which had witnessed massive youth mobilisation.” However, in 2016, the survey found “a significant decline in participation in protests and demonstrations as compared to 2013.”
The study is quite in line with a significant observation by Nobel laureate Prof Amartya Sen, who said, “It is always problematic to judge distress from protest movements, since it may reflect better organization and militancy rather than greater distress.”
That the poor generally do not protest also is clear from a Reuters blog on Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, which acquired huge support in Delhi in 2011, leading to the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party.
The blogger observes, “While I was interviewing a group of students and young IT professionals who had travelled from the trendy city of Gurgaon, next door to the capital, shoe-shiners and trinket sellers approached us several times, and were ignored or spoken over.”
“The group, who wore paper signs on their chests criticising Sonia Gandhi, the country’s most powerful politician, was later making jokes about Singh being Sonia’s “toy” when children in bare feet prodded them, asking for money”, the blogger says, adding, “They were gently but firmly brushed away.”
“The beggars did not share the excitement of the protests, just as it is not clear how much of the news of scandals involving politicians and bureaucrats on trial have filtered down to rural areas, where concerns of jobs and where the next meal is coming from dominate”, the blogger says, adding, “in a recent poll by the Hindu newspaper, only 45 percent of respondents had even heard of Anna Hazare. The figure dropped to 39 percent among rural respondents.”

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